Notre Dame Prep's equestrian program continues to grow and excel as it prepares for its 14th straight season.
According to the American Horse Council Foundation, a national association representing all segments of the horse industry based in Washington, D.C., there are an estimated two million horse owners in the United States and 7.1 million Americans involved in the industry as owners, service providers, employees, competitive riders and volunteers. The foundation also estimates that there are about 9.2 million horses currently in America, including both commercial and recreational horses.
Further, recent survey data revealed that among those most interested in horseback riding are younger millennial adults as well as older millennials with children, and even members of Gen-X, showing that enthusiasm for the activity hasn't been lost among some of today's most influential consumer segments.
All of which bodes well for those involved with high school equestrian competition, including Notre Dame's team, which is led by alum Theresa Schmid ('13), who's been an active participant since she first came to the school.
"I initially became interested in NDP equestrian when I got to Marist Academy for eighth grade and heard from a fellow student that the high school had a team," said Schmid, who also is an alum ('17) of New York University with a degree in media, culture and communications. "I was pretty new to competing at the time but wanted to be a versatile rider, so it seemed like a natural fit as well as a great way to become more involved with my school."
That involvement turned into four years riding for NDP's team, serving as team captain for the last two, during which she also was the team high-point rider. She also rode on NYU's hunt seat team, and currently is heading into her fourth year as the head coach of the Irish team.
Schmid and her team will kick off their pre-season activities in late May or early June, after which she will finalize her roster and hold practices starting in June. The season starts in the fall with three regular season ("district") competitions with two taking place on the same weekend. NDP competes in District 2 events sponsored by the Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association (MIHA). They are usually held in September in Armada.
Schmid said that if the team qualifies at districts, they go on to the two-and-a-half day Region E championships, held at the Ingham County Fairgrounds (September 27-29). If the team qualifies at regionals, they will then go to the four-day state championships at the Midland County Fairgrounds in mid-October.
In the meantime, the Irish riders will remain very busy.
"During the off-season, each of our riders works with their individual horse trainers on whatever their main equestrian competitive focus is," she said. "The team horses are boarded at various facilities, usually on-site with the rider's regular trainer. During this time, riders often indirectly practice for the team simply by working on improving themselves and their horses in other areas."
She notes that team practices start in June and are usually held once a week; however, due to the difficulty of transporting horses and the wide radius in which team members and horses live, riders aren't expected to attend every practice with a horse, but rather they usually just have to meet a set minimum number of practices.
Schmid also said it's too soon to tell how many members she'll have on this year's team, but at the very least, the Irish should have six riders from last year: Colette Bockrath ('21), Cara DeFelice ('21), Maegan Fitzgerald ('20), who will be team captain, Kendall Lance ('21), Grace Parker ('22), and Olivia Urban ('20), also a team captain.
"At the moment, it also seems likely that we could have one to four additional team members this year, but some of them may be non-riders, which is a non-competitive team position akin to a team manager," she said.
Schmid also want to point out that equestrian is not just for high school girls.
"It is very much a co-ed sport, but we've never had a boy on the team," she said. "However, other teams that we've competed against have had boy riders.
High school equestrian competition typically involves 17 different events, including hunt seat showmanship, saddle seat equitation, western horsemanship and two-person relay. Each rider can be entered in a maximum of eight events and teams cannot enter more than three to four riders in a single event. The team with the most points wins, and the champion and reserve champion teams then get to move on to the state championship.
Notre Dame springboard into NYU and college equestrian
Keeping track of everything, not only in the competitions, but in practices and training as well, is sometimes pretty hectic, according to Schmid. But she has help.
"My assistant coaches are Stephanie Bean, who is the former head coach of the NDP equestrian team and has worked with the team for eight years; and Sue McGinnis, a science teacher at NDP who has a hunter-jumper background and who currently focuses on dressage for the Notre Dame team," said Schmid, who also currently works in communications for the University of Michigan, a job she attained, she believes, thanks to her time spent as a student at Notre Dame Prep.
"NDP and the IB program definitely helped me thrive academically at New York University due in large part from the excellent preparation and focus on critical thinking I received there," she said. "I actually credit my choice of studies at NYU and career path to Mr. [Anthony] Butorac's IB English course I had during my junior year, when he piloted a program on media literacy that really left a strong impression on me of how much of everyday life is affected by communications. In addition, the leadership opportunities I received thanks to the equestrian team and the band program taught me so much about working with people as individuals to create a successful team as well as building up my confidence and initiative."
Schmid elaborates on what NDP and especially it's equestrian team has meant to her.
"Plain and simple, Notre Dame Prep's equestrian program is truly incredible," she said. "Very few private school teams exist or stay around for long, but despite multiple challenges, we're heading into our 14th year. We're also a true underdog story; after never moving on from districts for our first nine years, we've earned champion titles almost every year since 2014. In fact, last year we were one of the top 10 teams in our division."
She added that the team has had many riders who joined the team with experience in only one or two events, but then moved up to six to eleven events as well as riders who've struggled their first year but went on to be a team high-point rider.
"All of these are reasons why I'm so incredibly proud of this team, and my greatest hope is that the rest of the NDP community will share in that pride."
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three Notre Dame schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org