Western championship wraps up outstanding MTSU equestrian season

A first-place finish at the 2021 YEDA Western Collegiate Celebration, hosted by the Youth Equestrian Development Association recently in Cleveland, Tennessee, completed an outstanding year for the MTSU equestrian team.

The team, coached by Ariel Herrin Higgins and undefeated during the regular season, took 12 riders to the competition. Eleven earned awards.

In the 16-team field, MTSU finished ahead of two West Texas A&M squads, fourth-place St. Mary-of-the-Woods (Indiana) College, fifth-place Berry College from Rome, Georgia, and sixth-place Adrian (Michigan) College.

MTSU usually competes in Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association regional and nationals, but IHSA canceled its events because of COVID-19 for the second consecutive year. The team followed local COVID protocols for the outdoor competition in Cleveland.

“Our success came with extreme focus and determination,” Herrin Higgins said. “We had a lot of moving parts and they handled it with ease. Mental preparation has been a big part of our plan this year, as well as embracing opportunities.

“Every single person had to be on top of their game in order to prepare our 14 horses, prepare themselves and also bring their best in the arena. I am truly impressed by the efforts shown at this competition.”

Herrin Higgins said MTSU “had some advantage because we were able to compete this year with a full season of competition. Many schools were not able to have a regular season, but were able to compete as travel restrictions were lifted.”

MTSU won competitions last fall in events hosted by the University of Tennessee and Murray State University.

Top individuals at the Cleveland competition included:

  • Taylor Meek, a junior from Murfreesboro, who was champion Qualified Open Reining; champion Team Open Horsemanship; reserve champion (runner-up) Qualified Open Horsemanship; reserve champion Individual Open Horsemanship and reserve champion Individual Open Reining.
  • Lindsay Gilleland, a senior from Powder Springs, Georgia, who was champion Qualified Open Horsemanship; reserve champion Qualified Open Reining; reserve champion Team Open Reining; and third place Individual Open Horsemanship.
  • JoBeth Scarlett, a sophomore from New Market, Tennessee, who was champion Team Level II Horsemanship; champion Individual Level II Ranch Riding; reserve champion Qualified Level I Horsemanship and third place Individual Level II Horsemanship.
  • Zee Petree, a junior from Knoxville, Tennessee, who was champion Qualified Level II Horsemanship; fourth place Team Level II Ranch Riding; and fourth place Individual Ranch Riding.

Other successful MTSU riders included sophomore Kiersten Carlisle of Dallas, Georgia, who was third in Qualified Rookie Horsemanship and fifth in Team Level I Horsemanship; freshman Jessie Kauffman of Woodbury, Tennessee, who was reserve champion Individual Beginner Horsemanship; sophomore Austin Aguilera of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, who was reserve champion Qualified Beginner Horsemanship;

Sophomore Cory Elks of Union City, Tennessee, who was fourth in Individual Rookie Horsemanship; freshman Louann Braunwalder of Lascassas, Tennessee, who was fourth in Team Rookie Horsemanship; junior Jordan Dillenbeck of Murfreesboro, who was fourth in Individual Level II Horsemanship; and senior Nikki Dyer of Memphis, Tennessee, who was reserve champion Individual Level I Horsemanship.

The 12th rider, Shannon Kennedy, a junior from Memphis, experienced “a great ride” in Individual Rookie Horsemanship, Herrin Higgins said.

With only two seniors graduating, the coach looks forward to the 2021-22 season.

“We have many returning riders and we are excited to meet all the new members that will join us in the fall as we continue on our quest to earn a national championship,” she said, adding they expect to return to competing for IHSA regional and national berths.

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