A new equestrian team based in Lancaster County is offering local youths the opportunity to show off their riding skills at the regional and national level.
Big Red Elite Equestrian Team is Nebraska’s first Interscholastic Equestrian Association riding team. The team started competing last fall and its high school team qualified for the national competition this summer.
The team practices at Cornerstone Stables in Hickman and includes about 17 middle- and high school-aged riders from Lincoln and surrounding areas. The team practices about once or twice a month, and riders also meet with coach Kelsey Ebke for private lessons more frequently, she said.
“We’re actually the first IEA team that’s been founded in Nebraska and the only one right now,” she said. “I have a girl on it from Gothenburg that travels three hours for practices.”
IEA competitions are different from other horse shows because they’re based solely on the rider’s skill, Ebke said. During competition, riders draw a random horse to ride.
“It’s not about who has the most expensive horse or who has the most expensive outfit and all that; it really comes down to their skill levels,” she said. “That’s been really fun for me to be able to take all that other stuff out of it and see how well they can do.”
The national competition will be in Fort Worth, Texas, at the end of June, and four of the team’s high schoolers will compete as a team there. One of the team’s middle schoolers also qualified individually for nationals, Ebke said.
Ebke said she wasn’t sure how much interest there would be in the team at first, so she was excited to see the riders perform so well in their first season of competition.
“As I started putting together a team, I realized we were quite talented,” she said. “It’s been really fun to just watch them grow and develop as riders over the year.”
Ebke is a horse trainer and judge and was on the equestrian team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She said she wanted to start the Big Red Elite team to offer similar opportunities to middle and high school students.
“I had an awesome experience on an equestrian team in college, so I wanted to give that opportunity to kids,” she said.
While horse showing season is typically in the warmer months, the IEA season is in the winter, which Ebke said offers something for riders to do during the colder months.
“It’s just been a really fun environment for all the girls to have something to do,” she said. “It’s given us a way to keep going throughout the winter months as well.”
After nationals this summer, the team will start preparing for the next fall’s season. Ebke said she’s seen growing interest in the team and expects to see the team grow and other teams form in the state.
“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from other people in Lincoln and across the state,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if others in Nebraska start popping up after ours.”
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