Two Gahanna equestrians are positioned to compete against the best in the United States at the 2013 Hunt Seat National Finals of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association in Syracuse, N.Y.
Maggie Gleason, 14, and Jordan Koenig, 12, are members of Pataskala's Bookmark Farms Equestrian Team, a hunt seat (English) riding group.
The girls qualified for the April 19-21 IEA Nationals after competing at the IEA Zone 5 Finals in Wilmington on March 16.
At Zones, Gleason placed third in her division (junior-varsity beginner), and Koenig was awarded champion in her division (future beginner). Riders had to place third or better to compete at the IEA National Finals.
A third student, Taylor McGowan, of Galena, narrowly missed heading to this year's IEA nationals, placing fourth in her division.
Bookmark Farms Equestrian Team coach Jenn Hunkins said the girls would compete against roughly 20 other riders at nationals.
"They will be judged on equitation, or the rider's position," she said. "It will be their ability to ride the horse and if they're doing what's told of them. They went through several levels to get to this."
Individuals and teams progress to nationals by earning point rankings determined by their placements in regular season shows, as well as regional and zone competitions. Riders choose horses at each show by randomly picking the horses' names out of a hat prior to the show.
Koenig, a Gahanna Middle School West student, likened it to "the luck of the draw."
"Sometimes I've gotten harder horses," she said. "Whatever I get, I'll work with."
Koenig said nationals are intimidating because the better riders would be there from all over.
She has been riding since she was 4.
"I tried ballet, tap and gymnasts, and those didn't fit," Koenig said. "Mom and Grandma found Bookmark Farms. I didn't want to get off the horse."
She hopes to become a horse trainer some day, she said.
Gleason, a Hartley High School student, said the competition would be especially tough at nationals.
"Everyone is really good," she said. "Every judge is different. I don't know how they will judge. I'll see how it goes."
Gleason said she would ride horses when she was younger, but she became too busy and quit.
"I started riding again because I needed more to do," she said. "I love horses."
The IEA was started in Ohio in 2002 and has become a significant North American equestrian organization for children in middle and high school.
The mission of IEA is to introduce students in private and public middle and secondary schools to equestrian sports and to promote and improve the quality of equestrian competition and instruction, according to the IEA web site.
Hunkins said the organization opens opportunities for teen equestrians to more horse shows.
"IEA gives everyone an equal chance to participate," she said. "Kids can compete according to what they are capable of doing in the show ring. The cost of being involved in IEA is more manageable for families than other forms of showing. The IEA rules state a teen must have ridden in lessons for at least a year and is able to walk, trot and canter on an unfamiliar horse. That's the beginner level, and it advances from there."
Hunkins said the other appeal of being in IEA is the team aspect of going to the shows.
"Equestrian sports are often about the individual," she said. "These kids compete first as a team, then individually."
The Bookmark Farms Equestrian Team was formed in 2008 at Bookmark Farms, which is owned and operated by sisters Joan and Annie Promen.
The riding lesson barn has sent teen students to the IEA Nationals in all but one season since the team was formed.
Go to the Rocky Fork Enterprise Facebook page to see more photos of Koenig, Gleason and Bookmark Farms.