USEF High School Equestrian Athlete Program

by WSHJA Member Services May 31, 2012 in Awards, Shows

Letterman jackets and varsity letters have long been a tradition of the American high school experience. Whether it’s from track and field or basketball, earning your letter and wearing it proudly is a rite of passage but until recently, equestrian student athletes were left out of these acknowledged ranks.  Today’s equestrians have more opportunities than ever before to compete on interscholastic equestrian teams and now thanks to the United States Equestrian Federation’s increasingly popular High School Equestrian Athlete program, teens interested in earning their letter in equestrian have got it made.

The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program began in the fall of 2009 and was born out of a growing number of high school students wanting their sport of choice—equestrian—to get the same recognition as all the other traditionally recognized sports.  “What initiated the program,” says Jennifer Mellenkamp, Director of National Breed/Discipline Affiliates and Youth Programs at the USEF, “was simply supply and demand.  We were receiving phone calls from parents saying, ‘is there anything offered that would recognize high school equestrian athletes? They spend just as much time training or competing as football and basketball players,’” recalls Mellenkamp.

The program quickly found its stride, and the response has been overwhelming. “Right now we have nearly 5,000 students enrolled.” says Mellenkamp.  “Parents have told us the school systems don’t understand the training and dedication that is involved to be an equestrian athlete” adds Mellenkamp, “and there is often no recognition for these athletes within their school systems. We felt we needed to start something to give all equestrian athletes the acknowledgement they deserve.”

The USEF High School Equestrian Athlete program was created as a means for students to receive recognition for their individual achievements regardless of if their school recognizes equestrian as a sport.  Students are responsible for tracking their own hours and competitions which means support from the student’s school is not necessary to participate.  Individuals who do compete interscholastically are able to use their team practice hours and competitions towards meeting the annual requirements.  The program does provide schools with updates and information about the students. “We’re hoping this will initiate conversations with the schools,” says Mellenkamp, “and that they will start taking notice of the equestrians that are enrolled.” More...

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