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Equestrian teams ride to upcoming Nationals

By Amanda Hancock
On April 11, 2014

When your teammate is a 1,000 pound animal, only one fool-proof motto applies: come out of the ring with no regrets.

At least that is the goal for the Miami University Equestrian Team as they prepare for Nationals in the upcoming weeks.

Winning is not the main concern, according to Lori Cramer, who serves as the senior director of the Equestrian Center and assists the team.

"It's all about making sure you give it your all and do your best," she said. "It's a partnership with the horse and you're never quite sure what might happen, but you want to go in there ready for anything."

This sentiment got the team through roughly 10 horse shows over the past season and "sweet 16" type rounds of competition. Now, Miami's Equestrian team is making moves to a national stage.

Under the umbrella of the equestrian team are three sub-teams. Hunt seat is known as "English riding" where riders jump fences, western involves reining with a cowboy-style saddle and dressage, which is often labeled as "horse ballet," and focuses on riding patterns.

Team president senior Danielle Paulson said she is proud that one has moved through the ranks this season.

"I hope that we can win, but I am just excited that [the team] is ranked nationally," she said.

After a strong showing last month at regionals and last week at zones, with competitors spanning from Canada to Kentucky, each group will prepare to take on more than 12 collegiate programs from around the country. The hunt seat team qualified for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Nationals, the dressage team qualified for Intercollegiate Dressage Association Nationals and Western was named Reserve Champion in their zone and qualified one individual for IHSA Nationals.

A total of 15 riders will be going to represent Miami.

"Competing is a great opportunity for our riders to gain experience riding talented horses and for Miami to get national recognition in the equestrian world," Paulson said.

Head coach Heather Pinnick has taken the hunt seat team to Nationals three of the past four years.

She takes pride in the many skill-levels displayed on the team.

"We need someone who is just learning how to ride as well as someone who has kind of been around the block," she said.

Pinnick's coaching philosophy revolves around student growth; she offers weekly lessons and opportunities for everyone to compete each season.

"It's great to win and to go on, but we also look at it from the other perspective of how each person changes over the four years, not only as a rider but as a person - I really like that, it's cool to see," Pinnick said.

With roughly 100 members each contributing to team points and accumulating individual points, Pinnick said the whole team works together for the common cause.

Between weekly practices, frequent team dinners and traveling together, the team remains close-knit despite their size, according to Paulson.

"We are unique because of our large number, but what makes us stand out is our dedication to one another and to the team," Paulson said.

The team was faced with less-than-ideal weather conditions this past season, leaving the team to train off-site in nearby Millville or Hamilton and often with canceled practices.

"The commitment the students have to program is huge especially when sometimes it seems like an uphill battle just to practice," Pinnick said. "Across the board, they are just very hard working and committed people which is unique for such a large group."

For Paulson, along with many of her teammates, it all comes back to the joy of riding horses.

"I've ridden anywhere from 50-70 horses while at Miami, and in the equestrian world this is an invaluable experience," Paulson said. "I love the sense of belonging I have at Miami because of my teammates. We are dedicated to one another and to our team."

The Dressage team will compete at Nationals this weekend in Virginia at Everette University. The Hunt Seat team and Western team will compete at Nationals in early May in Harrodsburg, Pa.

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