Westmoreland – Lydia Maria Child’s most famous poem starts as follows: Over the river and through the woods, to grandfather’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifted snow.
Sunday saw more than 40 young riders traveling over the rivers and through some woods to get to Fairway Farms. And while they did not have to traverse through white and drifted snow, they staged a competition that was athletic and poetic.
“I love it,” 72-year-old coach Jean Raposa said of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s events. “I’ve loved it since I started riding when I was eight years old.”
Raposa, a Clinton resident, is the owner of the White Fox farm and coaches the team of the same name. The Rhode Island native brought a handful of her proteges to compete against Canastota’s Whistler Ridge, Cleveland’s TAPS, Canastota’s Ironwood, Skaneateles’ RGB and Otego’s ABC in riding competitions for high school and middle school students.
Raposa got into riding when an aunt returned from working with the Red Cross in World War II and fulfilled a promise to teach her to ride. “I saw her in the open field jumping,” Raposa said. “I said to myself that’s what I wanted to do.”
Raposa’s riding career overlapped with her coaching in the sport the past 50 years and local riders have benefitted from it, including her son who made the USA Equestrian Team and her granddaughter who won the medal finals at the top show in the country. That girl, Schaefer Raposa, still holds records at Southern Methodist Univeristy.
Nowadays Raposa focuses on teaching the sport to a new generation. “I try to help them get better and be real horsewomen and horsemen,” Raposa said at the December 13 competition. “You see them start as total beginners.”
The bulk of the riders Sunday were anything but, and the competition brought out the best in them most of the time. Tayah Hummel, a 15-year-old from Remsen competing for Whistler Ridge, was thrilled in the day’s first event, the Open Flat competition for high school students.
“I did it,” she said with a big smile to her mother Rita Hummel. “I need four points and I just got it.”
The younger Hummel qualified for the regional show February in Skaneateles, next stage of competition for all the riders who make the grade. Those who fare best there move on to the zone show in Pennsylvania and the best from there head to the national competition in Kentucky in April.
“The judges look for position, how they post up in the right diagonal, and other things,” Rita Hummel explained. “There’s a lot to it.”
George Mierek, also a Remsen resident, also pointed out the riders have many challenges aside from the nervousness all athletes feel. “The kids ride horses by lottery draw,” Mierek said. “And they can’t use their own equipment.”
The host team, in this case White Fox, provided everything else needed for the event. And the event was held at Fairway Farms’ beautiful 100’ x 200’ arena. There’s a superb outdoor arena as well, but when the weather worsens in late fall and winter, they move indoors at the Westmoreland facility that was built on the dairy farm Rita Hummel and her sister Katie Hockersmith grew up on.
The competition featured high school students competing in flat and over fences events. There were three or four levels of competition for both styles and the judges quickly announced the scores. Kendra Duggleby, one of the early winners, was happy with her ride after she won her sixth event of the season.
“Lola’s a blast to ride,” the 16-year-old from the TAPS team from Cleveland, New York said about the horse she drew for the day. “She adjusted to everything and totally listened to me. You don’t always get that. We fit well together (today).”
Sara Bury of Liverpool and the “TAPS” team felt okay about her effort as well. “At the beginning it was a little iffy,” the 15-year-old said. “But we figured it out toward the end. He (Louie) was really fun toward the end.”
All the teams involved in Sunday’s event get a turn to host at least one show during the regular season. The riders and their families and friends arrive early to get warmed up, meet the horses and to help out with all the little things that make a show successful. And they all put their time in during the months ahead of time, by taking lessons, caring for their horses and staying in shape.
It all pays off when the events are over and they go back over the rivers and through the woods to their homes and a rest well-earned