Saturday, May 11, 2002

Equestrian equity goal of new national league

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Imagine that a kid without much money could walk into high school and sign up for the equestrian team just like basketball or football.

        From her barn at an all-girl's academy in the northeast corner of Ohio, Roxanne Rheinheimer has founded the Interscholastic Equestrian Association to implement that vision. She hopes the association will become, in essence, a horse league for high school students, complete with varsity letters, a national championship and college scholarships for the standouts.

        “Right now there is no recognition for equestrian athletes,” said Ms. Rheinheimer, director of the equestrian program at The Andrews School.

        The goal is to have schools provide access to equestrian sports the way they now provide other athletic competitions, using horses and arenas at colleges or horse barns.

        Ms. Rheinheimer's plan is based on a format that eliminates the need for children to pay the huge costs of buying and keeping horses. “The way that it works is very similar to swimming sports,” Ms. Rheinheimer said. “You don't have to have your own pool to be a swimmer. Your school would have an association with a local barn.”

        Ms. Rheinheimer's effort coincides with a push by a dozen colleges around the county to have equestrian sports sanctioned by the NCAA and give riders the chance to compete for a championship. NCAA participation requires 40 colleges to join the league. So far, 16 have joined.

        “Right now, the riding programs at high schools are pocketed around the country,” said Bob Cacchione, founder of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Bringing them into an organized association would allow for more structured competition and recognition, and give colleges a way to find and recruit equestrian athletes.

        Under the system designed by Mr. Cacchione and replicated by Ms. Rheinheimer, riders are assigned horses by drawing names out of a hat. Riders who own their horses are not allowed to compete with their animals.

        Still, some doubt whether an equestrian league could survive.

        Larry Boucher, assistant commissioner for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said that despite the state's reputation as the center of the equestrian world, “There has never been a high school in the state of Kentucky that has competed in equestrian events.”

        Lana Martin, regional director for a coalition of Oregon equestrian clubs, said it is unrealistic to assume that students at beginner levels will be able to use shared horses.

        “When you look at the safety issue, you can't just let somebody get up on horses just because they want to be there,” she said.


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