In her first year at Thornapple Kellogg Schools, sixth grader Paige Zellmer jumped for joy when she learned the school had a middle school equestrian team.
“I was really happy,” said Zellmer. “I wanted to be on a school team.”
She’s not alone. Zellmer and 10 other girls formed the first TKMS equestrian team this year under coach Michelle Fabiano.
“TK has a high school team, but we didn’t have a middle school team,” said Fabiano. “I put the word out and was surprised at how many kids were interested. We doubled the number I thought we would have.”
While the team works throughout the year on their skills, they have only one competition in the spring. Last weekend, the TK team took first place in the Division A Michigan Interscholastic Horse Association meet at the Barry County Fairgrounds. Among other teams competing at the event were teams from Caledonia’s middle schools, Wayland, Gull Lake, and Hopkins. In all there were about 14 teams competing. There were about 10 teams from different schools competing in different divisions at the meet.
Fabiano said she was very pleased with how well her team did in their first year and how much they learned.
“The friendships they’ve gained is the best thing about having a team. They all have a common love of horses,” said Fabiano.
Teammates showed in a variety of classes at the meet. They competed in showmanship, Hunt seat, Saddle seat, speed, Western, and equitation over fences. “I’m just so pleased that everyone came out and they are doing such a good job. It’s a feeling of accomplishment for them,” said Fabiano.
TKHS coaches agree having a middle school team will only strengthen the high school team that competes in the fall.
Julie Guenther and Dawna Feldpausch work with the high school team and attended the Saturday meet supporting the younger riders. “It’s a huge responsibility for these kids. They work really hard and they practice a lot,” said Feldpausch.
Kelly Gasser has been riding horses since she was about 5 years old. “I like how we all work as a team. We’re fierce competitors and now we’re teammates. We’re all really happy for everyone,” she said.
Gasser, a sixth grader, said she will probably continue being on the equestrian team in high school and representing her school. She said her classmates think it’s pretty cool that the school has a team.
Gasser said she prefers the speed competitions more than others and is always working to improve her skills. Judges are always looking for how well the rider sits in the saddle, keeps their heels down and their toes up, and maintains space between horses.
Madeline Coe said the contest Saturday was fun. “It feels nice to represent our school and it’s nice that we got this experience this year,” she said.
Other team members are Emma Fabiano, Emma VanderHeide, Katie Schorr, Lacey Schoendorf, Maddie McGill, Marrisa Ondersma, and Oli Miller.