With a graceful leap, Karen Osborn sailed over the red, white and blue fence atop a brown Warmblood horse. After a quick glance at her coaches for approval, she maneuvered through the rest of the fence course at Leysabach Farm with ease during Saturday morning practice.
Osborn is one of eight riders from the Sanctuary Stables Equestrian Team that qualified for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals, which will be held April 22 to 25 in Conyers, Ga.
Sanctuary Stables is comprised of 18 members from grades six through twelve in the greater Syracuse area. While the team is open to both boys and girls, there currently all female riders, led by Nicolle Madonna, coach and Meg Maloney, assistant coach. All riders must try out in August, where they are chosen based on their skill level on two to three different horses, their progress and their dedication to the team, said Madonna. Each season begins in September and ends in April.
The team was created by Madonna last year, and was originally based at Sanctuary Stables in Cazenovia. After learning the farm was up for sale, the team relocated to Leysabach Farm, owned by Sue Coleman in East Syracuse, where they now practice. Next season, they will compete under the new team name, CNY Equestrian Team.
This season, 13 riders from Sanctuary attended the I.E.A. Zone Finals at Alfred University on March 27, where they competed against teams from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and earned the Zone II titles of both Middle School and High School Champions. Eight riders also qualified to participate in the IEA National Finals at The Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, GA, April 22 to 25.
The qualified riders include Morgan Mapstone, sixth-grader at Cazenovia Middle School; Danielle McCrohan, 11th-grader at Fayetteville-Manlius High School; Monica Perrone, eighth-grader at Christian Brothers Academy; Erin Vieau, eighth-grader at CBA; Kali Jarvis, 11th-grader at Cazenovia High School; Kristen Koenig, 10th-grader at F-M; Karen Osborn, 11th-grader at CBA; and Corinne Milnamow, ninth-grader at Chittenango High School. Osborn and Milnamow are both co-captains this season.
“I’m super proud that all the hard work the girls have put in is being paid off with an opportunity to compete in the finals,” Madonna said.
For most of the girls, this is the first time competing in the National Finals. Only Vieau made it to the finals last year, though she didn’t place. While all the girls are beaming with excitement about the upcoming show, they seem to share the same apprehensions.
“Not knowing what horse you’re going to draw” is the most nerve-wracking part of the showing, said Milnamow, who has been riding since the first grade, but began competing last year. Vieau and Osborn agreed.
“Drawing” a horse refers to the process of riders picking a horse’s name out of a “hat” and riding that horse during the competition with no warm-up. This system is used by the I.E.A. as a way to judge riders fairly based on how well they can control a horse they aren’t familiar with. The school or farm hosting the competition supplies horses for the riders, said Madonna.
To prepare, the girls swap horses multiple times during practice so they don’t get too comfortable with one horse. The team has nine horses they work with; two horses are owned by Madonna, a few are privately owned by team members, but most are leased by individual riders from local stables.
As the team practices in the afternoon sun, Milnamow’s mother, Cyndi, watched from a nearby picnic table.
“Meg and Nicolle are good at finding the girls’ potential,” she said. Milnamow said she enjoys watching the girls progress in their riding abilities, despite the fact that the sport can get expensive.
“Riding is their passion, so you really can’t put a price tag on it,” she said.