WILMINGTON — No longer the new kid on the block, Wilmington College’s equestrian team has come of age and is making itself known in an especially competitive region featuring the likes of Miami University, Ohio University and The Ohio State University.
WC competes in both Western and English Hunt Seat equitation within Zone 6, Region 2 of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. It is currently the region’s reserve high-point Western team with its sights set on gaining the top spot.
A golden opportunity for such an unprecedented move at WC comes this month when the College hosts a pair of Western shows at the Wilmington College Equine Center on Fife Avenue, about a mile east of main campus.
The competitions are scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 18 and 25, from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the indoor arena.
This weekend, WC expects to show with OSU, OU, Miami and Ohio Wesleyan. Other schools in the region include Denison, Dayton and Otterbein universities.
“Our goal this year is to win the high-point team at least once,” said Katie Finkes-Turner, who is in her first year as manager of the Equine Center and equestrian team coach. “This year for the Western team has been different — we’ve gone from being just another competitor to now we’re watched out for.”
The team boasts 22 members who show Western and another 11 who show Hunt Seat, and seven involved with both horsemanship disciplines. The roster indicates significant growth, as last year only three showed in Hunt Seat.
Sophomore Michael Porter competes in both arenas. “This is a special thing about Wilmington College — you can experience both at the same time.”
Porter, who is from Xenia, is majoring in animal science with minors in business administration and equine studies.
Like many of his peers on the team, he has been riding horses literally all of his life. He started riding solo at age six before competing in open shows and 4-H events as a nine-year-old. He’s been on the quarter horse circuit for the past four years, in addition to, now, showing on the intercollegiate level.
“He’s a cool cat when it comes to competing,” Finkes-Turner said, alluding to Porter’s confidence and experience in horsemanship.
Both are looking forward to this month’s home competitions with its inherent home venue advantage. Like all intercollegiate competitors, Porter cannot ride his own horse, Mya; rather, they randomly draw horses made available by the event host, which in this case is Wilmington College.
“We ride these horses every day,” Finkes-Turner said, noting that, historically, other schools’ competitors “love” our horses. “Other teams are going in blind like we do when we travel to competitions. There are a lot of unknowns, but on any given show day, anybody can win because it’s the luck of the draw — and how you ride. For us, we’ll put our best foot forward on horses we know.
“I feel we have a strong opportunity to come out with high-point.”
They will be competing against teams they know well — they’re all at literally the same competitions 16 weekends a year.
“These are some top teams with super-established programs that send competitors to Nationals every year,” she added. “But it’s great competing with the established programs because, when you do well against them, you know you’re competing at the level you need to be.”
The familiarity among Region 2 teams often results in friendships established between competitors. This tends to enhance WC’s “strength of presence” at the shows, which is a desirable dynamic Finkes-Turner has especially enjoyed watching develop this year.
Porter added, “I’ve seen a real sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie between teams.”
At the upcoming competitions, look for a fail-safe indication of the confidence Finkes-Turner has in the team’s potential success: “I’m a little superstitious so I’ll have on my green boots,” she said. “I’ve been wearing them since we started getting good.”