Many youngsters dream of riding horses when they grow up. For a number of Bulloch County girls, not only do they ride, but they are so skilled at what they do they now compete at the highest levels in their sport.
This past weekend, 233 high school and middle school equestrians descended upon Evermore Farm in Leefield with their families and coaches in tow.
The Zone Four Championship of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association was contested at the Bulloch County farm just north of Brooklet. It is the second largest zone in the association and participants included riders from 51 Zone 4 teams, whose area covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
By midday Sunday, Evermore riders Olivia Rigdon, Lauren Thompson, Rachel Byrd and Sarah Merritt had qualified as “Individuals” to go to the IEA Nationals, which will be held this year in Conyers, Ga.
As the competition drew to a close, the Evermore team learned they had a chance to take second place in the “Team” category in Hunt Seat, which would qualify the entire group of riders to go the IEA Nationals.
After the final round, the Evermore Team clinched the Reserve Championship to qualify for nationals. The team consisted of Kaylee Sheppard, Sarah Brown, Olivia Rigdon, Lauren Thompson and Ashley O'Neal.
In each style of riding there were three classes - Future, Junior Varsity and Varsity. Also, there were different levels of skill in each class: in Future, there were beginner, novice and intermediate; in JV, there were beginner and novice; and in Varsity, there were intermediate and open.
Two of Evermore's most accomplished riders, who went to nationals last year in Cleveland, Ohio as “Individuals” were Kaylee Sheppard and Sarah Brown. Curiously, Kaylee was the first of the Evermore team to ride on Saturday morning, while Sarah was the last Evermore rider late Sunday afternoon.
Both girls said that while half the horses in the competition came from Evermore, they each ended up with horses from the Atlanta area with which they were unfamiliar.
“Each rider has no idea what horse they'll be riding,” Brown said.
She said that she actually lost to her Evermore horse that was in the ring with her on another rider.
Sheppard said that going to nationals as a team would be a lot less stressful, and probably a lot more fun.
“Being that the nationals is in Conyers this year will be nice, as a lot of my family and friends will probably be there as well,” she said.