Inter-School Horse Show series lets nontraditional athletes shine

Participants in the Inter-School Horse Show Series at Oatland Stables in Brookeville line up to be judged. The 15-year-old series began as a school equestrian club.
Participants in the Inter-School Horse Show Series at Oatland Stables in Brookeville line up to be judged. The 15-year-old series began as a school equestrian club. (Laurie Dewitt/the Gazette)
By Meghan Tierney
The Gazette
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Devereaux Raskauskas always loved riding horses. But growing up without one, she wasn't able to compete in equestrian events with other riders.

Now Raskauskas works to make sure young riders can get the sense of accomplishment and belonging from horse shows that most competitions provide.

For 15 years, the Inter-School Horse Show series has given riders the chance to bring athletic accolades to their schools, no matter how small their equestrian team or whether they own a horse.

Raskauskas, of Darnestown, was inspired to start the series when her eldest daughter formed an equestrian club at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac. Her daughter said riders deserved to represent their schools in the same way as athletes in other sports.

The club grew into the Inter-School Horse Show series, which includes teams from about 40 schools.

"This is a very unique series in that you can compete at a high level without having your own horse, which a lot of families can't afford," said Paige Dunn of Damascus, riding coach and equestrian program director at the Barrie School in Silver Spring. "These kids, they might not be the greatest soccer players, they may not be the greatest volleyball players, but they're great riders, and it's a way for them to compete for their schools."

Sixth- through 12th-graders who are taking riding lessons can start a team with as few as one member. They can also participate in competitions from September through May.

"What we're trying to do is get the schools to acknowledge that equestrian kids are athletes," Raskauskas said. "The acceptance level is much higher now; in the beginning, it was a problem."

Riders can lease horses from the stables, which is a boon to students who plan to compete in college, where riders must use horses for shows that they are not used to riding. About 90 percent of students who participate in the Inter-School Horse Show series lease horses, Raskauskas said.

"Riding in Inter-School challenges the rider more," said Thomas S. Wootton High School co-captain Aleks Timrots, 16, of North Potomac, who said he plans to compete in college. "Most of the time you're on a different horse, and it's putting your ridership to the test."

Riding is usually an individual sport, but in the Inter-School series, students work for points for their team. The events emphasize cooperation and sportsmanship, and riders said the shows are a chance to relax and enjoy themselves.

"I love it because it gives me the opportunity to ride different horses and meet people my own age who have similar interests," said Mackenzie Young, 17, of Olney, a senior at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington.

Young plays lacrosse and field hockey but said riding is a different kind of sport.

"I feel like it's more competitive, because it's individual, but you work as a team."


© 2010 The Washington Post Company