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UWRF Hunt Team riders qualify for nationals

April 26, 2017

Two members of the UW-River Falls Hunt Team, part of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA), have been named among the best in the country and will be taking their talents to nationals in May.

Hunt Coach Rachael Walker said that this season has been the best she has seen in the time since she started coaching the team approximately seven years ago, topped off by athletes Alaina Kelly and Juliann Tetschlag qualifying for nationals. Both riders took first in their respective classes at zone competition, making them among the top 16 riders in the country in their divisions. The last time a student on the UWRF team qualified for nationals was in 2009, according to Walker.

Juliann Tetschlag, Alaina Kelly, Jennifer Michel, Carli Boston-Denton and Coach Rachael Walker pose with IHSA founder Bob Cacchione at the Zone 7 competition.

Juliann Tetschlag, Alaina Kelly, Jennifer Michel, Carli Boston-Denton and Coach Rachael Walker pose with IHSA founder Bob Cacchione at the Zone 7 competition. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Walker)

During the season, the teams and riders accumulate points based on how they place at the various shows. At the end of the season, 36 or more points advances them to the next level and regionals. Placing first or second at regionals guarantees a spot at the zone championships, which took place on April 9 at Black Dog Farms in Marion, Indiana. It is only then that placing first or second at zones grants a spot at nationals.

UWRF is part of Zone 7, Region 3 of the IHSA, which includes campuses in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, as well as Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada. Eight zones in total exist within the IHSA, and each zone sends its top two riders in each division to nationals.

Tetschlag, a freshman majoring in agricultural education, will be riding in Novice Over Fences. She said that she’s been riding horses since before she could walk, which makes qualifying for nationals particularly rewarding, especially because the opportunity is bigger than anything she’s been able to do until now.

“I don’t know how to put a word to it,” Tetschlag said. “I’ve been working at this for my whole life, and growing up we didn’t have the money to put into [horse shows]. We did what we could, and my parents tried as best they could to give me the opportunities, and I worked for a lot of things I got. I didn’t always have the best horses or trainers or anything like that.”

Kelly, a junior biology major, will be riding in the Beginner Walk/Trot division. She said that she suspects the beginner levels can be some of the most competitive.

“There [are] only a handful of gaits, maneuvers and positions they can test you on,” Kelly said. “If you’re having an off day in the slightest way, there isn’t much room to make up for it.”

At the horse shows, the athletes randomly draw horses and are given minimal tips about how to ride the specific horse. The chances of drawing the same horse multiple times are slim, meaning the riders have to adapt to horses they’ve never been on. Tetschlag said that preparing for this takes a lot of practice, but even practice does not guarantee success.

“With horses in general, it kind of depends on the judge and the day and what horse you draw, and so you can never expect anything,” Tetschlag said.

Kelly said that the idea of showing horses and competing with a team, both experiences she hadn’t had before, drew her to the IHSA.

“Coming from a background of never being on a team, I’ve just loved so much the feeling of sisterhood we all share,” Kelly said. “Nobody cares what your history is. It’s all about helping each other move forward, and I have so many lasting memories that we’ve all shared together.”

Nationals will be held from May 4-7 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

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