In a region surrounded by rodeos, the Silverpeak Equestrian Team is focused on learning to ride elegantly in an English-style saddle.
The team of 13 middle and high school girls, now headed into its third year, is part of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, a nationwide nonprofit formed in 2002.
The club will be recognized by Durango High School this fall, which will give the team a place in the yearbook, allow students to be excused for events and to earn a letter, said Gracie Weaver, a sophomore.
“It was a smaller team, and a lot of people don’t know we are even out there,” she said. The club would like to be recognized by schools that other members attend, including middle schools.
As part of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, the team is far more affordable than similar clubs because it does not require riders to have their own horses, said coach Sarah Vines.
At competition, riders draw their horse from ballots out of a hat, and then they are judged on their abilities to negotiate the course and perform jumps smoothly and effortlessly, Vines said.
“I think it’s really great. I have learned how to deal with all different types of horses,” Weaver said.
It can be tough, though. Many team members had a story to share of a difficult mount. For Weaver, it was a little gray horse that didn’t want to move at all.
Her teammate, Tessa Parker, 13, had the opposite experience.
“There was this one horse I rode that was really fast. ... It was just so fast I couldn’t focus,” said Parker, a Miller Middle School student.
The riders practice for these challenges at Vines’ Hermosa-area ranch using about a dozen different horses. The competition season runs from September through April.
At one recent practice, the girls endured some of the sport’s hazards such as horses pulling up short in front of a jump and slipping from the saddle.
For some who learned to ride in a western saddle, riding in the lightweight English saddle is tough, said Teresa Doherty, who started with the team this year.
“The horses are a lot more spicy,” she said.
Isolated by 400 miles from the nearest competition, the team’s region covers Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Travel is the greatest expense, and the club started selling bracelets and running concession stands this year to cover travel.
“After a few shows, we realized we should fundraise, mostly for our travel costs, so everyone could still participate,” Weaver said.
There are other costs as well.
It is $50 to join, and entry fees for a competition are typically about $20. Members must purchase uniforms, which range between $40 and $100, Weaver said.
Vines founded the team after meeting a representative of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, and the structure of the club appealed to her. Thus far, the team has attracted fairly experienced riders, although not all of them have their own horses.
It’s also provided camaraderie and necessary experience for many of the girls who aspire to compete in college.
“It’s brought a lot of girls that ride in the community together,” Vines said.