Lake Effect Equestrian in Edinboro, Pa., isn’t just teaching kids to ride; they’re also helping them earn junior-high and high-school letters for their commitments to equestrian sport.
Lake Effect has a competitive Interscholastic Equestrian Association team that’s open to riders in grades 4-12, and both coaches and parents at Lake Effect are active in encouraging riders on the team and in the lesson program to join US Equestrian’s Lettering Program.
“When you’re in school a lot of times equestrian sport isn’t recognized as it should be,” said trainer Lindsay Filley. “When you’re in a school sport, typically it’s an every day commitment to practice, and it’s the same with riding, except equestrian sport is all year ’round. The schools don’t really recognize these kids for the hard work, time, and commitment that they put into it, so this is a really good segue to that recognition. The Lettering Program also encourages a team environment and a team feel, and that’s something else we don’t always get that much in our sport. It gives something to work towards and attain, and the program helps to keep them striving for the next level. There were many different threads that led to me encouraging the kids and their parents to do this.
“We have an IEA team, and it’s a group that encompasses the beginner through advanced levels. I encourage all of them to participate in the Lettering Program as part of their development as an equestrian.”
“It’s a goal for them,” agreed Pru Shaw, whose daughter Grace is a high-school junior at McDowell High School and a Lettering Program participant at Lake Effect. “And I do think it’s making people more aware that this is a sport, and a sport that requires a lot of athleticism and dedication.”
About the Lettering Program
The Lettering Program is open to equestrian athletes in grades 5-12 who are members of US Equestrian and are involved in any breed or discipline. Students can earn a letter in equestrian sport either through general equestrian activity, including lessons and pleasure riding, driving, or vaulting, or through competition. To complete the requirements for a letter, a student must do one of the following:
- record a minimum of 100 hours of riding, driving, vaulting, or training
- compete in at least three USEF-licensed or non-USEF-licensed competitions at any level or type during a year
Students also can apply retroactively for previous years if they are still in grades 5-12 and can provide verification of their activity for each year. Students in their senior year must provide all documentation to US Equestrian by June 15 of their high-school graduation year.
A Team Effort
Filley said that Lake Effect students have been involved in the Lettering Program for the last five or six years, and one of the program’s appeals is that it’s open to kids at a variety of levels, whether they’re actively competing or not.
“They get a feeling of accomplishment, even if they’re not competing at the bigger shows,” she said. “I’m always trying to find ways to give our students a path to success, and I think the Lettering Program is one of those. This really is a program where, if you put in the time, which most kids do, you’ll get recognized for that.”
Lake Effect’s coaches, Filley and Lori Hermann, have promoted the Lettering Program to their students by informing them and their parents about the program and putting information about it in their IEA team handbook. Parents also pitch in for the team, taking on a variety of assignments. When the coaches asked Shaw if she’d spearhead promotion of the Lettering Program to Lake Effect students, she readily agreed.
“It’s good to have a parent within the team promote it, someone who can answer questions and explain to other parents that it’s super-simple to apply and it’s inexpensive, but there are so many benefits to it,” Shaw said of the Lettering Program. “In 2018, we had a get-together at my house where we had the team over for pizza and salad, and we had three laptop computers up, and we walked everyone through the process.”
Getting everyone to sign up as a group also helps promote team spirit, and it’s helped spread the word about the lettering opportunity to incoming kids and parents.
“Now that we’ve started it, I think it starts a snowball effect, because the younger kids look up so much to the older ones, and they look up to US Equestrian with that beautiful lettering patch,” Shaw said. “Our coaches want the kids to do it, and they realize what a good idea it is, and the kids and parents really listen to that, too.”
Getting Schools’ Attention
The Lettering Program also is helping spread the word to school administrations that equestrian sport is as beneficial, important, and demanding as any other.
“I think when it’s promoted to school administrations, they see the hours and the effort that go into equestrian sport, the physical and mental skills, and what a well-rounded sport it is,” said Filley. “You have to have a multitude of skills to be good or successful at it. So many people are unaware of all it entails.”
Pru Shaw and her daughter Grace saw that first-hand.
“They did recognize her and give her a varsity high-school letter, thanks to US Equestrian,” Shaw said of Grace’s school, McDowell High. “For quite a long time, we had realized, and Grace had talked about it, that her older sister got a varsity letter from McDowell for the tennis team; she went to the banquet and got recognized with all her friends. Then her trainers told us that Grace could get her athlete letter from her high school and be recognized by US Equestrian, and they talked to us about the program.”
Shaw says that having equestrian accomplishments recognized at the school’s athletics banquet is also important to Grace. “It’s such an accomplishment, and then to be recognized with your peers when they’re getting letters for swimming or basketball—it’s neat to be included in that exclusive group based on your hard work.”
Shaw noted that US Equestrian, which provides a letter of support and certificate of accomplishment for Lettering Program participants, also helped the McDowell High School administrators see her daughter’s involvement in horse sports as a serious athletic endeavor.
“We’ve had so many school districts come on board,” she said. “Some of our IEA team members come from almost two hours away to participate on an IEA team and ride with our trainers, so quite a few school districts are represented on the team. And I think we’ve had four or five school districts come on board, thanks to the Lettering Program.”
Grace’s equestrian varsity letter is also helping to inspire younger and less experienced riders to stay involved and reach for new goals.
“Grace has her US Equestrian patch on her jacket, and the younger kids go, ‘Oh, look at that!’ It’s one of the things that makes them want to be involved,” Shaw said. “Grace loves equestrian life, and I think for these kids it’s a real passion that also teaches them responsibility. It teaches them concern and love and friendship and hard work, and being on a team also has taught my daughter things like how to be a good teammate and care about your team members. It’s so all-encompassing, and I don’t think kids get as much of that from most other sports.”