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October 9, 2013

Local equestrians changing face of sport

CHICKASHA —

Horseback riding is normally reserved for the financial and social elite, for those who can afford thousands of dollars for a horse, boarding, lessons, and travel expenses.

But the group of kids training out at LNJ Ranch Tuesday evening, about halfway between Duncan and Lawton, don't really fit into that mold. Yet, there they sit, trotting, cantering, and jumping as a team two nights a week with hopes of competing against the best riders in the nation. Thanks to the newly formed chapter of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association -- the first such organization in the state -- the riders are jumping over physical barriers along with social ones.

“It gives me the opportunity to ride with others who like equestrian sport around the nation,” Kaitlyn Verser, a sophomore at Chickasha High School, said. 

Tuesday night was the group's first training session together, with members of the high school and middle school teams present. Ranch owner Laura Armstrong is the team coach, or trainer, as they head toward their first team competition on Nov. 16 in Arkansas.

“Not everybody has the luxury of a million dollar horse," Armstrong said. "You don’t have to be a millionaire to do it.”

All it takes to be part of an IEA team is a $175 team fee, $45 per rider fee, and the time and money to attend training sessions and competitions, which can still run in the thousands. Still, IEAs eliminate the biggest expense: the horse.

When the students compete, they draw from a group of provided horses that are classified for the riders' skill level. There is no need for students or their families to cart their own horse around the region; however, this does require riders to get to know their horse in a matter of minutes before heading out into the arena.

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