By MICHAEL COPELAND | Contributor
Most SportStars readers probably aren’t aware that there are two middle and high school equestrian teams located along the I-680 corridor.
The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) was formed and organized to promote and improve the quality of equestrian competition and instruction available to middle and secondary school students. Hilary Johnson, head trainer for both the Diablo and Athenian IEA teams, says collectively the two teams have approximately 30 student riders and both train out of the Iron Horse Equestrian Center in Danville.
“We have a lot of very committed and talented athletes participating at all levels”, says Coach Johnson.
IEA was formed in the spring of 2002. Beginning with only 200 participants, the IEA has grown to over 8,000 riders in over 32 states. It wasn’t until the 2012-13 season that Hilary, along with coaches Reagan Hayes, Paul Bennett and Jacqueline Duff formed their two teams. The competition season starts September 15th and ends at the National Finals in late spring. Amazingly, the Diablo team produced a national champion during its first year in existence.
While the IEA supports three disciplines of riding (Hunt Seat, Western and Saddle Seat), locally it’s the Hunt Seat or Equitation style that is most popular. The unique aspect of the competitions, both at a local and national level, is that none of the riders supply their own horses or tack. Instead, the host team provides the horses and equipment. This equalizes competition variables and tests the horsemanship of the contestants
Approximately eighteen Division-I and four Division-II colleges and universities make up the National Colligate Equestrian Association (NCEA) and have scholarship opportunities in equestrian riding. Participation in the IEA is almost essential to be recognized by one of those NCAA schools. Gretchen Koenen, a graduate of Monte Vista High and former member of the Diablo IEA team, is currently riding for Kansas State University.
Some of the top riders currently competing for the Athenian team include sisters Alexandra and Nicolette Hirt, Peyton and Ginger Freeman and Kelsey Sarracino. From the Diablo team, riders such as Kelsey Pearl of Bishop O’Dowd, Hannah Copeland of Monte Vista and Sara Kobayashi of San Ramon Valley High School make up a strong nucleolus.
Hilary’s hope is that her riders will be recognized by their individual school’s athletic departments and allowed to earn a varsity letter like their high school peers.
“These girls put in just as much time as any other student athlete and hopefully their schools will eventually embrace their athletic achievements,” Johnson said.
The Zone 10 Finals took place on Sunday, April 6th at Iron Horse Equestrian Center. Coach Johnson is extremely pleased that Peyton Freeman, from Athenian, qualified for nationals which will be held in Springfield, Massachusetts May 16 -18.
SportStars Magazine: High School Sports Articles Online SportStars is your go-to source for the very best high school sports articles in California. Player and team profiles, game coverage, health and fitness tips and the largest Camps, Clinics & Combine resource for athletes. We're the story behind the stats.