Truly a blessing

Notre Dame senior who just finished a major 4-H competition says being able to participate in equestrian at a school like Notre Dame is a blessing.

During the weekend of Aug. 15-18, 2019, the Michigan 4-H State Horse Show drew exhibitors and equestrian competitors from around the state to participate at the Michigan State University Pavilion for Livestock Education in East Lansing, Mich. It's one of the largest equestrian events in the Midwest.

One such competitor this year was Notre Dame Prep senior Olivia Urban, who has qualified each of the past four years for the MSU event. 

She's also a well-respected member and currently team captain of the NDP equestrian team, according to coach Theresa Schmid NDP'13.

"On the Irish team, Olivia has always been a dedicated teammate," Schmid said. "She's been a model of perseverance and support for the other riders, refusing to let challenges and incidents keep her from coming out and being there every day and every event for her team."

Urban and her horse, Pandora, did well last weekend at MSU despite some very tough competition. But, Urban said, just preparing for such an event also is tough and all-consuming. In fact, last year was especially rough as she ended up with a broken finger while getting the horse and equipment on the trailer.

"This year, however, Pandora and I came back strong," said Urban, who also recounted the preparation leading up to the event. 

"To qualify for the state show, riders must compete in three out of the four 4-H horse shows in Michigan, and place high enough to reach the required points to go to states. Competing at states is challenging, those who qualify typically are some of the best youth 4-H riders across the state." 

Urban noted that everyone who qualifies for the state show must demonstrate the core values and mission of 4-H, which are: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living — for my club, my community, my country and my world. I believe in 4-H work for the opportunity it will give me to become a useful citizen.” 

Urban said that one of the most important things to do to prepare for states, or for any competition, for that matter, is horse and rider need to work very hard to strengthen "their bond." 

"Pandora has helped me through difficult times and has brought me joy," she said. "Working to improve for the state show also helps me to improve for the Notre Dame equestrian team, which starts next month."

The weekend of states began for Urban by trailering Pandora into the MSU Equine facility the night of Friday, Aug. 16. Once she unloaded her horse and all of her tack, there was still a long night ahead as they got ready for Saturday. 

"On Friday night, I prepared by riding her a while so she got used to the new surroundings; then I bathed her and groomed her, including shaving her whiskers and braiding her mane," she said. "After all of this is done, I was finally able to get some rest and mentally prepare for the big show."

Saturday morning, bright and early, Urban headed to the barn where she again groomed Pandora and fed her a breakfast. Once the horse was taken care of, Urban got herself ready by putting on her show gear (western hat, chaps, boots, and show shirt). Then she began once again the intense mental preparation needed to compete well in such an important competition.

"To prepare for my Western riding classes, which involves a combination of control and skills, mixing techniques from trail, reining, and equitation, I have to memorize three patterns that I will be doing while riding Pandora," she said. "The first class was Western showmanship, where I am on the ground and off the horse leading Pandora through a pattern. This class is judged on how well I execute the pattern, how well the horse listens to me, and how we present ourselves as a team."

Urban said that with Western horsemanship, it's a "flat class," where all the riders are in the arena at the same time. 

"The judge then gives us commands and we have to execute those commands with the whole group," she said. "For horsemanship, we are judged on how we work together as well as how we handle our horses."

After Western horsemanship, the next competition on the agenda was reining, which involved guiding the horses through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops. 

"For reining, I have to memorize a pattern that includes a few difficult maneuvers," she said. "Pandora and I worked the hardest for this event as we also compete in it for the Notre Dame team. Unlike Western horsemanship, reining is a solo event, so only one horse and rider at a time do the pattern."

The last competition of the day for Urban and Pandora was Western dressage, also a solo event that includes a pattern, too.

"For this class, we were judged on how well we executed the maneuvers in the pattern," she said. "Out of the four classes I competed in this past weekend at MSU, Pandora and I really enjoyed this one the most!"

NDP coach Schmid said she is especially proud of Urban because she has worked very hard over the years to expand her range of capabilities. 

"Although she started out specializing in speed events, her interest in reining led her to more all-around disciplines, including showmanship, Western horsemanship and Western dressage," Schmid said.

Urban said she is looking forward to this fall's competition with her school.

"For me, the Notre Dame equestrian team has been a huge part of my high school experience," she said. "Everyone on the team shares something in common, not the least of which is our passion for horses, which has brought us very close together. Not many schools offer an equestrian team in this area, so being able to ride for NDP truly is a blessing."

Notre Dame's first district meet is Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Armada Fairgrounds in Armada, Mich.

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It 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, visit the school's home page at