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Cantering to college
Portal seniors love of horses pays off with scholarship for University of S.C. equestrian team
W Lifestyles 2
In English tack and attire, Pope is shown here at age 8, riding the first horse she ever officially owned - Bumpkin, a sorrel American Quarter Horse mare with Coosa bloodlines, at a show in Hinesville. - photo by Special
     Portal High School senior Amanda Pope has been riding horses all her life, and recently, found a way to make that lifelong love of horses pay off.
      The University of South Carolina recruited Pope to its NCAA Varsity Equestrian team and provided her with a scholarship to the university. Pope signed off on the deal at Portal High School last week.
      According to Web site, the program's mission is to "advance the sport of varsity equestrian from emerging to championship status with NCAA by promoting the benefits of varsity equestrian to potential institutions, riders, parents, horse industry professionals and sponsors while developing the rules and format of competition."
      It's also a way to go to school and participate in a sport that means the world to the teen.
      Amanda has been showing American Quarter Horses for 12 years, she said. Her family (mother Joy and father Dennis Pope) own Flamekissed Farms in the Aaron Station area of northern Bulloch County, and horses have always been a part of her life. She has been riding since age 3.
      "I love horses," she said. "They teach me respect and responsibility, and teamwork. When I sit on a horse it's like I'm free, like there's nothing else in the world except you and the horse. All my problems disappear when it's just me and my horse."
      Pope followed in her sister Kim's foot steps when she began showing horses. "You know how you want to do whatever your big sister does," she said. But as she got into the sport, the reason changed. Amanda showed and rode horses for her own self satisfaction.
      "It frees my mind," she said.
      Her favorite show classes are challenging and require a great deal of teamwork between her and the horse - reining and working cattle. "There's an adrenaline rush when you are sitting on that horse," she said. "The different patterns, maneuvers - it's peaceful and fun."
      It's also a great deal of work. But in spite of the hard work, keeping up her grades at school and other teenage pastimes, the active Bulloch County 4-H Horse Club member also volunteers to help other younger 4-H members by giving them riding lessons and allowing them to train on the family's horses, said her father.
      "She gives lessons to help them raise their ability," Dennis Pope said. "She uses our older show horses, and instructs them in drill team and showing."
      The 4-H drill team members ride in maneuvers, working together to perform the dance-like moves on horseback.
      Dennis Pope said four of the younger students Amanda has helped with riding skills will likely qualify to go to state competition.
      As a member of the University of South Carolina's varsity equestrian team, Pope will compete to garner show points for the school.
      "The varsity schools show one horse with one girl from each school riding the horse, and the higher score wins the point for the team," Dennis Pope said. "In school meets, they ride five horses each in reining, horsemanship, hunter over fences and hunter on the flat.
      "At the national championships, they ride four in each event. The horse and riders draw to see who from each team rides what horse," he said. "The girls have four minutes to figure out how to show the horse then they must show it to the best of their ability."
      Riding unfamiliar horses at the events gives t he opportunity to how the rider's skills, he said.
      According to the Web site, "In 1998, equestrian was classified as an NCAA emerging sport. Many people within the horse industry have united together to help advance the sport to full NCAA championship status. In order to attain this goal and hold a NCAA Equestrian Championship, there must be 40 Division I/II schools that sponsor equestrian as a varsity level program.
      "Currently 23 colleges and universities offer equestrian as a varsity sport and more continue to add the program each year."
      Other regional universities involved in the varsity equestrian program are the University of Georgia and Auburn University.
      Amanda is ecstatic over blending her favorite sport with furthering her education.
      "It is really awesome," she said. "It is good that all my hard work over the years has finally paid off - my horses are putting me through college."

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