by Jason Wright / Appen Newspapers
May 13, 2009 It's obvious when you meet the Milton High School equestrian team that the members are all good friends. There are the inside jokes, the loads of smiles, the horseplay – pun intended – and the fits of uproarious laughter synonymous with a group of teenage girls happy to be together and loving what they're doing.
Maybe it's that camaraderie that contributes to the riders' success. In just their second year, Milton High's 25-member equestrian team placed all but two of its members in the top eight in the nation at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association's National Championships, held April 30 to May 3 at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio.
One rider, sophomore Lauren Jones, placed fifth in the country.
Milton senior Britain Cecil is captain of the team. She said the squad, which missed the National Championships last year by just one point, came into the contest this year tied for second, points-wise, from their zone. "I'm very proud of my team, and it was an honor to be there," she said. "I just hope we can live up to the legacy next year."
It's been a meteoric rise – membership has doubled since the first team of 13 riders last year – for the club team that competes in what is called "equitation." Essentially, Cecil said, the sport involves participants completing a series of riding and jumping exercises flawlessly. The wrinkle? Riders never know which horse they are going to get.
"You're expected to do the same tasks as everyone else to determine your level of riding regardless of the horse," she said. "It is your job to figure out which technique will be best in the ring."
It can be extraordinarily tough going. Just ask Milton junior Jessie Singer. Because a rider never knows which horse she will ride, luck is a big part of the equation."I'm just glad to be in this spot," she said. "Last year was not a great year for me, so this year has been really exciting."
Their season begins in August and consists of about eight shows a year, plus regional and national competitions. And only once did they have "home field advantage," as it were.
Milton's team hosted a 15-school contest at Foxcroft Farms, where they practice every week, on New Providence Road outside Crabapple in late January.
The rest of the season the team travels and competes against region foes like Alpharetta High, Lovett and North Gwinnett – and the pride of all of Milton's horse farms go with them.
"We're representing this entire area, which is kind of cool," said Cecil. "A lot of football teams don't have the ability to say they represent the entire area."Meghann Murphy of Foxcroft Farms is the coach of the squad. She said a lot of riders are drawn to competing in the team setting because it provides a "cost effective way of riding.""And since it's such an individual sport, it builds the team camaraderie and gives them an introduction to college level riding," she said.
Cecil said the secret to the team's success is Murphy's easy rapport with the team."We could not have done it without Meghann Murphy's coaching and training," she said.How they got to Ohio is another exciting story. At the zone finals competition at Chateau Elan, freshman Angelea Motz scored seven of her team's 17 total points to help clench the victory. The shy but consistent rider blushed when her teammates said it was just another case of her "being on fire.""Yeah, they had to call the fire department," she joked. "I'm just happy to be able to help take the team to Ohio and represent Milton."