Of Girls and Horses: Lettering in Equestrian

Equestrian is one of the newest lettering opportunities in sports for high school girls. The program, written and proposed to the Rochester Public School district by Susan Austin and Eliese Klennert, is now in its second year.


Eliese Klennert, owner of The Stables Equestrian Center, is a certified riding instructor and coach. She volunteers her time as advisor for the Rochester Public School District’s Equestrian Club. 

Klennert says equestrian is a physical and mental sport. “Coaches say 90 percent of riding is between your ears, meaning it’s mentally challenging. You might be dealing with a horse who is having a bad day. Also, your teammate (the horse) doesn’t speak your language. So, along with developing the physical skills needed in the sport, riders learn to communicate with the horse.” Klennert explains the sport is also physically demanding, as riders need to “own their own body” and be able to influence the horse, a 1,200-pound animal who isn’t always interested in following the rider’s signals.


Annalee Atkinson, a sophomore at Mayo High School, lettered in equestrian as a freshman. “You learn how to be tough,” she says about riding. “It really pushes you, and you figure out how strong you are.” Some of the technical skills, such as turning on the forehand and turning on the haunches require the horse to move in a way that isn’t natural to him. Annalee has been riding since she was 7 years old and recognizes how her experience in practice and competition has benefitted her in unexpected ways. “I have grown in confidence and courage,” she says. “I don’t let things bother me as much anymore.” 

Patty Atkinson, Annalee’s mom, says the equestrian lettering program helped her daughter in a variety of ways, including helping her to stay organized as she coordinates details—requirements of shows, lessons and volunteer hours. She says it has been a big confidence booster for her daughter and that it builds resilience. Annalee has learned that “not every day is going to be a good one, but that it is important to stick with it.”

Currently, Annalee is training three or four times each week, hoping to qualify in a dressage rally this spring. If she qualifies, she will go on to compete at the national level, in the Pony Club’s Dressage Competition in June. In dressage, horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements in the arena. She plans to continue in the sport of equestrian throughout her high school years and may pursue it at the college level as well.

Anna Austin, a sophomore at Century High School, also lettered in Equestrian when she was a freshman. She has been riding for nine years. She likes the connections with the horses and the other people who like to ride. She appreciates the time spent volunteering as well, as she feels it has helped her more effectively communicate with a variety of people. Anna hopes to pursue equestrian in college.

For now, Anna is focused on qualifying in show jumping, a timed event in which judges combine scores in riding and horse management. “It will be fun to experience this with my horse, Big Jim,” Anna says. “I have a bond and connection with him; I understand what helps him and what he doesn’t like.” She has been training with Big Jim consistently for the past year, and has competed in show jumping for a few years.


The sport of equestrian is unlike other high school sports, in that the season is longer; it runs from August 1 to June 1 (the whole school year), but the number of hours is similar, at about 150 hours over the season. Students are expected to attend twice-weekly practices, each averaging about an hour, participate in a minimum of three equestrian events (horse shows which are outside judged and open to the public,) pass a skills assessment test and complete community service hours.

Holly Galbus is a Rochester freelance writer.