Monday, October 29, 2012

Lettering in horsemanship: High school competition growing

Competition during district two show
While not yet competitive with Friday night football as a high school sport, horse shows as part of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association are growing in participation. What began as an idea copied from Michigan about five years ago has now joined the mainstream of high school athletic sports here in Wisconsin.

"You can now get a high school athletic letter in horsemanship," said Jill Klubertanz, WIHA district 2 chairwoman. "School districts that recognize the sport can, if they want, offer a letter to participants."

Since its inception in 2007, WIHA has grown from 17 teams across the state to more than 60 teams with more than 300 students participating, said Julia Lepinski, WIHA president. Its growth is partly connected to the team aspect of the competitions.

"You’re part of a team. There are no individual awards. When you compete, you’re helping your team and everyone is cheering and helping each other along," Lepinski said.

Anything connected to high school-sanctioned sports tends to get complicated, but the WIHA tries to make it as easy on school districts as possible to recognize the sport, she said. A big hurdle to adding more sports is money, so WIHA activities and events are completely self-funded.

"The students take on all the costs of having the animals and the transportation," Klubertanz said. "The association takes care of the various liability issues that a school district is usually concerned about. There’s no cost to the school district for having a team."

Wisconsin is divided into 18 districts and students may form teams regardless of whether a school district decides to recognize horsemanship as a lettered sport. Divisions within WIHA are based on the number of riders from a school district: Division A, 11-15 riders; Division B, 6-10 riders; Division C, 3 to 5 riders; Division D, 1-2 riders.

Teams then compete in district shows for the chance to go to the state show. The top two teams from each district division earn the chance to go to the state show. There’s a smorgasbord of 18 competitive WIHA classes such as: western showmanship, hunter hack equitation, reinsmanship, barrels and relay races.

Teams pick six of the available classes in which to compete. The show competition is similar to a track meet where athletes may compete in more than one event, Klubertanz said. Team scores are added up to determine team winners.

"There are individual ribbons, but at the end there is only a team trophy," she said.

"Our season is short; September and October," Klubertanz said. "Each district does three shows. If it’s a small district they may combine shows. It’s unique that we judge only the rider’s ability. The kind of horse a student has doesn’t matter."

Why should youth want to get involved with another high school activity when there already are so many to choose from? Klubertanz says many young people with equestrian interests are so wrapped up with their horses and horse activities that they often forego other high school athletics and programs.

"The students with horses are putting in all the work and making all the sacrifices and learning many of the same lessons as other athletes," she said. "The WIHA gives them the opportunity to get some credit for their work so they use it on college applications and resumes like other students do."

The official association purpose statement reads in part, " promote continuous growth in programs fostering horsemanship education, sponsor activities to encourage interscholastic participation and to have cooperative adult supervised leadership (coaching) for all students in grades 6 through 12 who are desirous to participate regardless of race, creed or national origin and meets the association rules and regulations."