MANTON — They’ve only been competing as a high school team for two years, but they’re headed to states.

Them, and the horses they rode in on.

Manton’s high school equestrian team will compete at state finals Oct. 10-13 in Midland.

The high school equestrian team competes in a brief fall season; Manton won at districts and were reserve champions (second place) at regionals, which qualified them for the final state competition.

The team wasn’t even sure that they would qualify for regionals, let alone state.

“And then when we started seeing the points coming in, that we were in contention ...‘ said Jennifer Wahr, assistant coach, “it was like, ‘OK, this is really happening.’‘

Each rider competes in various “classes‘ that judge riders on how well they get their horses to perform in certain styles or through certain types of challenges.

“For the most part, they will be staying in stuff that they’ve competed in since districts,‘ said Jennifer Wahr, assistant coach to the high school team (head coach of the junior high team) and owner of the farm where the riders practice and owner or caretaker to the horses that the riders use in competition. “With the exception of a couple classes — I’m mixing some things up and having some kids try some new stuff.‘

On Thursday, that meant rider Molly Hicks was practicing in saddleseat tack, to prepare for competing in a saddleseat class.

“Pretty much all of these girls are expected to be able to compete in any and all classes,‘ Wahr said on Thursday as the team mounted up to practice bareback riding, one class that equestrians can compete in. “So I kind of expose them to a little bit of everything with the exception of jumping, because I know my horses’ limits.‘

On the drive home from regionals, the riders had planned to practice every day in the two weeks before state competition, though weather has interfered with that plan.

On Thursday, Grace Wahr (Wahr’s daughter) rode Sweet Pea, Mary Backman rode Pony, Molly Hicks rode Storm and Kasey Zuiverink rode Golda.

While some of the team members ride throughout the year, the equestrian team’s short season means learning quickly.

Zuiverink and Golda, for example, have only been paired up for two months.

“They’re still trying to figure each other out,‘ Wahr explained — and that can be challenging because Golda can be grumpy.

“I’m working on trying to teach these girls to be riders who can problem solve on the fly, and not be so reliant on someone on the rail telling them every time to fix things,‘ Wahr said. “I don’t expect them to fix everything before next weekend, but I’m going to work on them progressing that direction because they all have two more years of competition.‘

Lilly Garno and Alexis Madden also compete on the team; Jody Thomas is the high school team’s head coach. Manton competes as a “B‘ class team because of the number of riders that participate. The team functions as a club instead of an official school sport.

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