KI High eques­tri­ans cel­e­brate suc­cess­ful sea­son

Record Observer - - News - By DOUG BISHOP dbishop@kibay­times.com

STEVENSVILLE — Though the Kent Is­land High School eques­trian team was ap­proved by the Queen Anne’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion al­most four years ago, it’s one of the school’s best kept se­crets. Kent Is­land High is the only high school on the East­ern Shore that has one, mak­ing it unique. Like the KI High hockey team and sail­ing team, the eques­trian team started with club sta­tus. How­ever, those clubs can now earn var­sity let­ters.

Hav­ing an eques­trian team in a pub­lic school is al­most un­heard of. The cre­ation of the KIHS team was through the per­se­ver­ance of par­ent and for­mer leader of the Pony Ex­press 4-H Club, Tammy McCaslin, her daugh­ter, Made­lyn (Mad­die), and KI Ele­men­tary As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Ar­lene Read­ing. The three lob­bied the school board to al­low the cre­ation of the team.

The eques­trian com­mu­nity in Queen Anne’s County has a strong tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing win­ners. It be­gan more than 30 years ago, evolv­ing from the county’s 4-H pro­gram. Each year the county qual­i­fied a num­ber of very com­pet­i­tive young eques­tri­ans who com­peted suc­cess­fully at the state 4-H fair in Ti­mo­nium, first in speed events, par­tic­u­larly bar­rel rac­ing. The Pot­ter and Gar­lic fam­i­lies made their marks.

At the same time, Kim Ward of Stevensville com­peted at the All-Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse Con­gress, held each year in Colum­bus, Ohio, the largest sin­gle-breed horse show in the world, tak­ing lo­cal horse show­ing to an­other level. Ward, to­day, a Navy vet­eran, is pro­fes­sion­ally train­ing horses with Branded Equine out of Joshua Sta­bles in Carlisle, Pa.

Then came the fi­nesse rid­ers and per­form­ers, Karen Marx and Me­gan Wise, both win­ning state 4-H cham­pi­onships in Show­man­ship and Horse­man­ship.

David Wal­bert of Queen­stown, an­other prod­uct of the QA 4-H pro­gram, has taken sev­eral lo­cal youth groups to the Ap­paloosa World Horse Show held in Ok­la­homa City for the past sev­eral years, also turn­ing heads, and achiev­ing top 10 plac­ings at that show.

Queen Anne’s County cur­rently has, and has had, many very tal­ented young eques­tri­ans, and all they’ve needed is an op­por­tu­nity to show­case their skills.

The show­case hit an­other plateau in 2015, when An­gelina Watts of Stevensville grad­u­ated from KIHS be­com­ing the first eques­trian from the county to earn a $22,000 a year schol­ar­ship to be on the eques­trian team at Del­a­ware State Univer­sity, one of only 24 Di­vi­sion 1 eques­trian teams in the na­tion. An­gelina be­gan train­ing with Karen Marx when only 9 years old, be­com­ing a stand­out al­laround per­former in 4-H, and also com­peted on the na­tional stage at the Con­gress show, two dif­fer­ent years.

Many peo­ple also didn’t know that col­leges have eques­trian teams, and schol­ar­ships can be earned in eques­trian sport just like foot­ball and bas­ket­ball. An­gelina’s mark has set the bar high for other lo­cal young eques­tri­ans, who now, not only want to fol­low in her foot­steps, but, more im­por­tantly, be­lieve they can and will earn eques­trian schol­ar­ships.

Her col­lege head coach, Jen­nifer Ridgely, of Wy­oming, Del., has judged the Queen Anne’s County Fair horses shows nu­mer­ous times over the past decade. She said she has no­ticed the im­prove­ment in com­pet­i­tive rid­ing here. Fol­low­ing the 2014 QA Fair, she said, “There are many rid­ers at this show who could turn their skills into col­lege schol­ar­ships to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tions.”

Teacher Syd­ney Po­daza took over the “reins” of lead­er­ship of the KIHS eques­trian team, now serv­ing as team ad­vi­sor, as the McCaslin fam­ily grad­u­ated from the high school in 2015. Po­daza’s daugh­ter Wil­low will be a se­nior this com­ing school year and will be serv­ing a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year as team pres­i­dent.

Wil­low and Al­li­son Thierry will be the team’s only se­niors at this point.

“The team had a lot of firsts this past year,” said Syd­ney Po­draza. “It was the first time we par­tic­i­pated as a team in the home­com­ing pa­rade. This was the first year we had a full roster, and the first time we placed in the Top 10 at the an­nual school in­vi­ta­tional, plac­ing eighth out of 20 teams. We per­formed com­mu­nity ser­vice and did fundrais­ing. One of our team mem­bers, grad­u­at­ing se­nior Erin Beck, re­ceived a $500 schol­ar­ship at the ath­letic sports ban­quet. Erin will be at­tend­ing Sal­is­bury Univer­sity.”

Po­draza ex­plained how the com­pe­ti­tions run, “All of the com­pe­ti­tions are in Mont­gomery County, where there are more high school eques­trian teams. The com­pe­ti­tions are ei­ther at Oat­lands Sta­bles in Gaithers­burg, or NSF Sta­bles in Poolsville. The com­peti­tors never ride their own horses. You’re as­signed a mount to ride, and you’re not al­lowed to warm-up the horse. You just get up on the horse and the com­pe­ti­tion be­gins with com­mands from the judge. Usu­ally eight to 12 rid­ers in the show ring at the same time. Plac­ings are made, and points are earned for your team.”

The com­pe­ti­tions are gov­erned by In­ter-School High Show Series (ISHS) rules. Po­draza added, “Wil­low has never rid­den the same horse twice at any of the com­pe­ti­tions the past three years. I think it’s made her a bet­ter rider, rid­ing so many horses. That’s what the high school com­pe­ti­tions do, ex­pose you to so many horses.”

There are three dif­fer­ent di­vi­sions: Maiden, for begin­ner/first year rid­ers; Novice, for more ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers; and Fu­ture In­ter­me­di­ate, for the most ex­pe­ri­enced. In 2016-2017, the KI team will have enough rid­ers to cover all three di­vi­sions. The ISHS shows are all Hunter/Jumper shows (English-style rid­ing).

“The pri­vate schools have a leg up on us be­cause they of­fer eques­trian sport within their school cur­ricu­lum,” said Po­draza. “The larger pri­vate schools dom­i­nate the com­pe­ti­tions right now. Many of the pri­vate schools have horses on their cam­puses, and the team mem­bers ride ev­ery­day. We don’t have that here in pub­lic school, but we com­pete.

“I’m proud of our team. To me, ‘we’re the lit­tle team that could!’ We will be part of the KIHS team show­case Tues­day, Aug. 2, be­gin­ning at 6:30 p.m. for stu­dents in­ter­ested in try­ing out or join­ing sports teams at the school.”

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY SYD­NEY PO­DRAZA

Kent Is­land High School Eques­trian Team: front row, Maken­zie Miller, Katie Sheehi, Erin Beck, Wil­low Po­draza, Merysa Kirk and fac­ulty ad­vi­sor Syd­ney Po­draza; back row, Rachel Grabowski, Hannah Scott, Grace Park, Melissa Judge and Al­li­son Thierry.

School­ing at team clinic at Snap­dragon Sta­bles in Oc­to­ber, Maken­zie Miller and Katie Sheehi.

Grace Park, left, and Wil­low Po­draza dis­play the team’s eighth place rib­bon pre­sented by the show of­fi­cial at the an­nual ISHS In­vi­ta­tional. KI High placed in the top 10 out of 20 high schools and was the only pub­lic school in Mary­land com­pet­ing the Hunter-Jumper show series.

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