French, Jones and Kinnally to Represent UW at National Equestrian Show
A few years ago, the University of Wyoming equestrian club had but three members.
This month, UW will have three representatives -- more than any school but Texas Tech University and Louisiana State University in Zone 7 of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) -- at the national championships in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"This is just such a huge, huge deal for us," says UW Coach Kari Bright. "It's just been amazing to watch the growth of our club and to see the confidence rise in our riders. I think it's clear now that we have a really strong base for our club and that we've proven we're good enough to compete with anybody."
Freshmen Katie French (Plymouth, Minn.) and McCabe Jones (Dillon, Colo.) and sophomore Elizabeth Kinnally (Westwood, N.J.) will ride for UW at nationals, the IHSA's season-ending show that brings together the top performers from each of the association's nine regions.
This is believed to the most contestants UW has ever qualified in a single season for the national show. A year ago, Erin Downey was UW's first club rider at nationals since Michelle Schwope of Lovell and Amy Goodson of Sundance represented the school in 2004.
Farson's Codi Burris, a 2001 UW graduate, rode in the alumni competition at the 2007 and '08 national shows. In her second appearance, Burris finished as national champion in alumni horsemanship and reserve champion in alumni reining.
"I remember last year when we were so excited and amazed that we had one person going to nationals," says Kinnally. "And, now, in one year we've tripled that number. I think it's just remarkable for us to have three people going to nationals."
Ironically, UW wouldn't have three national qualifiers if not for Jones' ability to talk French into joining the club.
A barrel racer by nature, French came to UW with the intention of joining the school's highly-successful women's rodeo club.
"The first day I went to practice, she dropped me off and we met some people from the equestrian team and they were all really nice. But, still, Katie had no intention of joining us," recalls Jones, who will compete in intermediate western horsemanship at nationals. "After I got back to the dorms, I told her how much fun I had and that she could even do it, too."
To Jones' surprise, French changed her mind at the "last minute," she says, and decided to join the equestrian team.
And, to French's surprise, she emerged as one of the top performers in beginner western horsemanship in Zone 7.
"This type of riding is a lot more technical than what I'm used to doing, so I was just going into the season with the mindset of having fun and becoming a better rider," French says. "I just took every show one at a time and tried to focus more on having fun than qualifying for regionals or semifinals or nationals, because I didn't want to get my hopes up really high and then be let down."
Like French, Jones also exceeded his expectations for his rookie IHSA season, calling his qualification for nationals "the greatest accomplishment of my riding career."
"My goal for nationals is to go and have a good time and ride the best I can," he says. "I have no further expectations of myself because I have already fulfilled my highest expectations of the season."
Unlike Jones and French, Kinnally's goal from the beginning of the season was to advance to the national show, April 23-26 at Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro.
She completed her quest last weekend with a first-place showing at the zone championships at Hobby Horse Farms in Firestone, Colo. The zones were originally scheduled to be held at Laramie County Community College but were relocated because of poor weather in the Cheyenne area.
"She had an absolutely beautiful ride at zones," Bright says of Kinnally.
Kinnally hopes to duplicate her success at nationals, where she will compete in intermediate equitation over fences, a hunter seat riding event in which the rider must show over eight to 10 fences while maintaining proper body positioning atop the horse.
"I'm just happy to be going to nationals, but I'd really love it if I could get a top-five placing," Kinnally says. "There's going to be 15 or 20 riders in my class from around the country, so if I could place in the top five, I think that would just be incredible."
The UW club is seeking sponsorships and donations to help pay for travel expenses for the national show. To offer financial assistance, call Bright at (307) 760-9474.
The IHSA, founded in 1967, includes more than 300 member institutions and 6,500 riders across the United States and Canada. For more information, go to the Web site at www.ihsainc.com.
Posted on Wednesday, April 08, 2009