A newly established equestrian team is aiming to bring students closer to horses and their fellow teammates.
Coach Cathy Holland said the local team of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association consists of 13 youths in grades six through 12 in various local school districts. The team formed in November and practices weekly at Bonnie Lea Farm in Williamstown, and five members just competed at regionals in Greenfield this month.
"It took them a little while to come together," she said prior to practice on a recent Saturday. "But after a couple weeks, they became great friends, they had excellent teamwork. ... There were kids at regionals who didn't even qualify, they were there to cheer on their teammates. ... They made signs, and let me tell you it was cold."
IEA's mission is to introduce young people to equestrian sports, according to the nonprofit's website, as well as promote and improve the quality of competition and instruction. The organization boasts more than 8,000 members in 32 states.
Holland founded the local team last fall with head trainer Lisa Demayo of Bonnie Lea Farm. Christy Vlatch serves as the team's manager.
Students learn skills in equitation, the art of horse riding, Holland said.
"You want to balance your horse, you want to be graceful," she said. "And it can be used for show jumping. ... If you have that good posture, you'll be able to nail it."
Each indoor practice starts with a series of warm-ups to stimulate the horse's muscles and bloodflow. Then team members progress to moving at a quicker speed and then practicing jumping.
Safety is of the utmost concern, Holland said. Since team members don't ride their own horses during practices or competitions, jump heights are slightly reduced, she said.
And during practices, Holland rotates which horse a team member will ride.
"They're just like people -- different personalities, different skills, different abilities," she said.
Member Madison Vadnais, 15, of Stamford, Vt., was getting ready to ride Jasmine.
"She's a little green, but she's a good girl," she said. "She's fun to ride."
Emily Shanley, 14, of Williamstown, was getting ready to ride Soirée, who she said has a sweet personality.
"She's the biggest ham," she said.
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