BarnCats achieve local success, hopeful for regionals


The equestrian team enjoys an afternoon practice at Falcon Ridge Stables. (Photo credit to team member Josie Anderson)

Despite years of success, many students are still unfamiliar with Westminster’s equestrian team.

“Is that a thing? That’s not a thing. That cannot be real,” said junior Rohit Ramenini. “We don’t have an equestrian team. Do we have an equestrian team?” 

What may contribute to this unawareness is the lack of on-campus presence. Although Westminster used to have horse stables on campus, they were removed in the 1980s for a soccer field. Since the equestrian program’s inception in 2009, the team has practiced and competed in off-campus locations, often far from the metro area.

“I know that we have [an equestrian team], but I’ve never seen much advertisement for traveling to see them compete,” said junior Jackson Cropper.

This year, practices are held every other Tuesday at Falcon Ridge Stables, a barn in Woodstock, GA. The team is coached by Charity Durgin, who works at Falcon Ridge Stables and is unaffiliated with Westminster. In addition, the BarnCats are under the leadership of senior captain Josie Anderson.

“I’ve been on the team since sixth grade, so it’s been really fun watching the older riders throughout the years and then finally stepping up to be captain this year,” said Anderson. “The cool thing about the Westminster equestrian team is that we have lower schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers all together.”

The combination of grade levels in the team provides an atmosphere that is unique to other Westminster sports teams. 

“It’s been very exciting being new on the team and learning how everything works,” said freshman Anna Kate Horner. “I’ve been riding for several years so being able to compete in a team atmosphere is very exciting and fun.”

The captains play a big role in coaching and educating younger teammates not only in riding, but also in nurturing and taking care of horses. 

“It’s been fun helping out the younger kids learn how to tack up and groom and take care of the horses because that’s another big part of it,” said Anderson. “It’s not just riding, it’s also horsemanship.” 

Ultimately, these practices are to prepare for equestrian events, known as shows. At shows, riders are placed into one of four classes where they will specifically perform jumps such as over fences, crossrails, and flat-riding. These events are organized by the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, or the IEA. Some rules set in place by the IEA provide an extra level of difficulty for the riders.

“You get randomly assigned a horse the day of the show, so you’ve never ridden the horse before,” said Anderson. “You just kind of get on at the show and the judge will judge you based on how you look on the horse.”

Because each horse behaves differently, the judges watch how the rider adjusts, including their riding position and form. 

“It’s really testing your ability as a rider to adapt to different horses and not to just adapt to the horse you always ride,” said senior Melanie Zhang, the captain’s assistant. 

This season, the BarnCats will compete at five local shows. From the judges’ evaluations, riders can score individual and team points that will help towards qualification for higher-level shows, such as the regional and national competitions. 

“If we get twenty points overall after the five shows as a team, then we move on to the next round, which is the regional competition,” said Zhang.

So far, the BarnCats have placed second, second, and fifth at three of the five local shows. This gives them twelve points and means they must score eight or more points in the next two shows to advance to regionals, which are in April.

Like practices, shows are also held at barns far from Westminster. The next two shows are on Dec. 3 and Jan. 21 at Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers and Falcon Ridge Stables, respectively.

This season also marks the second year that the Westminster equestrian team has been considered a varsity sport.

“I think it’s great progress in the overall program because it’s never been a varsity sport before and it’s great to see more representation in the sports at Westminster,” said Anderson. 

Because equestrian is not a GHSA-sanctioned sport, the BarnCats originated as a “club” team, and many are still unaware of its legitimacy as a varsity sport. 

“We’ve mostly been seen as a club, but it’s not a club; it’s a sport, and we’re glad to have varsity letters now,” said Anderson.

Still, the BarnCats look forward to a competitive season. After its new designation, the team wants to gain a new sense of gravitas.

“Even though the equestrian team still isn’t the most recognized sport, Anderson says, “I’m glad to see it progressing towards there.” 

Edited by Neil Dhingra