Only halfway through its fifth season of showing, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Equestrian Team (UWET) has become a major player in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The school's hunt team currently leads the region by more than 40 points, while the Western team has maintained a strong presence and sits third in the region. In addition, Shannon Opel, a sophomore on the UWET, currently has the lead in the race for the Cacchione Cup. Sarah Borah, a senior and last year's AQHA Cup rider, leads the region by 13 points for that prize.
The UWET began competing in 1997 with only a few riders. What began as a small contingent has grown to 40 members and become a competitive force in its region. Team members attend weekly lessons with coach Brenda Mueller at Mueller Creek Stable in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. While the team members must drive an hour to their lessons, they have the opportunity to gain skills by riding many different horses to simulate the IHSA experience. Explains UWET board member Shannon Opel, "We hope to expand our riding program to the point where we ride almost daily and are able to support a full string of team horses."
The team currently receives no funding from the University and must look to outside sources and fund-raisers to defray the costs of horse showing. "Outside support is helping the team cope with the lack of university funding, says Sarah Borah, president of the team. "We've had car washes, raffles, horse show sponsors, food stands, team nights at local restaurants, and have sold t-shirts." The UWET's goal is to obtain University sponsorship and bring the team coach to a local barn to make consistent riding more feasible.
All the hard work has paid off as the team had the honor of competing in The Tournament of Champions in Laurinburg, North Carolina, in early December. Eight riders from the UWET traveled to Laurinburg to compete against the top riding teams across the country. Kristen James, the 5th place finisher in Intermediate Over Fences at the tournament, says this competition helped the team get a grasp of what the future may hold: "The tournament was a great experience--it gave us a good idea of what to expect for bigger competitions, like Zones and hopefully Nationals."
Sophomore Michelle Venema, the walk-trot rider, also placed 5th in the tournament and was extremely happy with her first experience at a large and very competitive horse show. "I've always wanted a horse," she says. "The IHSA and the team have given me the opportunity to learn to ride and compete against riders at my level."
In addition to partaking in horse shows, the team encourages the growth of camaraderie amongst riders. "The strength in our team lies in our overall attitude," says Kari Klasen, a senior and UWET board member. "Though we are competitive, we support each other and always have fun doing UWET activities. We all help each other out by sharing show clothes, giving rides to lessons, and being supportive at the shows." This support is key to the UWET's success because it reduces the nervousness that IHSA riders must face when drawing unfamiliar horses at the shows.
This supportive atmosphere has created many friendships and has made the IHSA an experience that the riders will always appreciate. The UWET now looks forward to finishing out the IHSA season and hopes to send riders to the IHSA National Championships in May. For more information, or to donate support to the team, please contact Jennifer Niemeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
USRiding.com/IHSA.com Intern, Jennifer Niemeier, is a senior at UW Madison and the hunt team captain and horse show manager for the team. She competes in open jumping, open hunt seat equitation, and Western advanced horsemanship.