According to Carla Wennberg the Western Coach, she spends the majority of her time teaching riders how to form these relationships.
“They are all good riders,” she says, “but I spend more time focused on the details.”
This type of instruction is hard to find in larger colleges. The smaller group allows her to spend time learning each rider on a personal level, not just as a student. This close-knit community mind-set is what sets her riders apart in competition.
“We work hard teaching them how to relate to the horses, but we are also teaching them life lessons,” says Wennberg.
No matter where a rider places, they can expect to see their St. Andrews family cheering them on complete with hugs in the center of the ring. Boosting confidence is another way riders stay focused and in a competition state-of-mind.
That is where Peggy McElveen, Equestrian Program Director and Liz Dulski, RLAK Program Director shine during competition. They work best at reminding riders they are as good as any other rider out there. They are perpetual cheerleaders according to Wennberg.
For first-timers at Nationals, like Steven Dennis and Gina Ulveie, the large, fancy arena at the Kentucky Horse Park can be overwhelming. This year St. Andrews was able to contribute five horses to the competition. Having horses there allow riders to get a feel for the arena before competing. It also gives them a job to focus on instead of focusing on their nervousness. They each help with cleaning, grooming and exercising the horses.
“It was a super tough competition but everybody had their heads screwed on straight,” said senior rider Jarret Vaughn.
Earning 27 points, St. Andrews defended its National title winning over Black Hawk College (IL), Ohio State University, Berry College (GA), University of Nebraska-Lincoln and others.
AQHA Team results include Mark Mowbray placing first in open horsemanship and placing fourth in team reining. Angela Bradford placed second in beginner horsemanship while Jarret Vaughn placed second in advanced horsemanship. In intermediate, Jordan Belanger placed third and Janelle Petruska placed fourth in novice horsemanship.
“I only started reining last year,” said Mowbray, “but it was amazing.”
Individual riders included Mowbray placing first in open horsemanship as well as sixth as high point rider. Dillon Vaughn also placed first in novice horsemanship. Taking seventh in intermediate horsemanship was Petruska, and first-timers to nationals, Dennis and Ulveie placed ninth in beginner horsemanship and honorable mention in open horsemanship respectively.
After winning Nationals for the second year in a row, five seniors were able to complete the weekend by holding their graduation ceremony in the arena. With the sound of bagpipes playing on the arena speakers, the graduates processed to the center of the ring.
“The dedication that you have put into the equestrian program makes it so appropriate that you stand here at the IHSA Nationals for graduation,” said McElveen.
Cailey Culp, Business Administration major from Murrell’s Inlet, SC, Steven Dennis, Visual and Performing Arts major from Douglas, GA, Mark Mowbray, Forensic Science major from Rhodesdale, MD, Janelle Petruska, Business Administration major from Gastonia, NC, and Jarret Vaughn, also a Business Administration major from Gastonia received their diplomas.
Moving on to retirement is a special graduate, Reggie, who was donated to St. Andrews by Michelle Hustad, a St. Andrews 2014 graduate. Reggie won his last class for best horsemanship during nationals but will now be moving to a ranch in Scottsdale, AZ.
So maybe the luck of the draw was in their favor or maybe the confidence-boosting worked. Maybe the riders wanted to prove something again before graduating or maybe all of the over-practicing paid off.
Whatever the reason, “all of the building blocks came together and they were so focused,” said Wennberg. “That’s why we won.”
To view more photos and videos, visit the St. Andrews Equestrian Facebook page.