Janesville41.1°

Equestrian club offers new alternative at Badger High School

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Kayla Bunge
July 16, 2009

Jillian Cline and Scout lined up at the far end of the ring at the Walworth County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, the first practice for the new equestrian club at Badger High School in Lake Geneva.


At first, she made a quiet sound, and the horse began walking forward.


Then, she skipped, and the horse began trotting ahead.


Finally, the pair stopped, stood shoulder to shoulder and waited for their critique.


Gail Peteler, who is coaching the group, was looking for poise, proper command of the horse and proper presentation of the horse—the same things a judge would be looking for during a show.


“We’re starting with the basics,” she said of practice Tuesday.


The club formed in late April after a number of students who participate in competitive horse activities wanted a school-based outlet for their hobby. A number of students who want to learn how to ride horses also were seeking a club they could join.


The club recognizes an activity in which many students participate outside of school, Peteler said.


“This is the only sport I play,” said Jacqueline Gritzuk, a senior on the equestrian team. “It’s almost like the school is supporting a non-school activity.”


The club also will help students develop life skills such as compassion, discipline and dedication in the context of a horse, Peteler said.


Peteler said it takes patience and perseverance to train and show a horse—and in a competitive setting, riders must demonstrate a unique relationship with their horses.


Take this example of commanding a horse to turn right: An average rider would press his or her leg against the left side of the horse. But a skilled rider could shift his or her weight in the saddle to the left and turn his or her head.


The difference is the detectable movement versus the undetectable movement, Peteler said.


“The horse detects that slight movement after it’s been trained, and that takes discipline,” she said. “All of these things have to go on, imperceptible to the people watching you. But the more skillful you get, the more subtle these things become.”


Students also will learn what it means to be a good sport, whether they win or lose an event.


“In a horse show, you’re going to lose a lot of the time,” Peteler said. “But you have to take those losses, regroup and move on to the next (competition).”


The club competes in shows sponsored by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horse Association, a grassroots organization that formed in spring 2007 to provide competitive equestrian events for high school students in the state.


“Most horse events are one-on-one. It’s you and your horse,” Gritzuk said. “But this is a team thing. And that’s cool.”


The club is open to students regardless of their experience with horses. While those who already compete in equestrian events will be the ones who show in the ring, there is plenty of work for those who are learning to ride, Peteler said.


Beginners will help bathe, brush and walk the horses before shows, she said.


“If you’ve really got the horse gene, you want to do those things,” she said. “You just want to be around the animal.”


The club plans to practice more this summer and compete in a charity horse show this weekend to benefit Special Methods In Learning Equine Skills, or SMILES, in Darien, a therapeutic riding center for children and adults with disabilities. The competitive season runs from September to October and concludes with a state show in mid-October.


Peteler has high hopes for the club’s success.


The Wisconsin Interscholastic Horse Association held a warm-up horse show in Elkhorn in May. The club competed against teams from seven area high schools and took first among other teams with three to five riders.



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