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  • Writer's pictureKurt J. Kolka


2017 / By Kurt J. Kolka

JOHANNESBURG --They were not expecting to make it this far. But they did.

By just four points at regionals, the Johannesburg-Lewiston High School Equestrian Team made it into the state finals in Midland which run from Thursday, Oct. 12, to Sunday, Oct. 15.

“We were pretty sure we had third place at the final ceremony,” says Coach Stacey Holzschu. “We were really excited when we made second. We knew we could do it, but it was pretty tight.”

“It was really exciting. We knew we'd be close, but it was pretty cool when they called us up,” says team member Sydney Townsend.

The high school team consists of just two students, Sydney Townsend and Taylor Peterson.

“Taylor handles showmanship and Sydney does the speed classes, pretty much,” explains Holzschu. “Taylor will be entering 11 classes and Sydney will be entering five classes at states.”

This is Sydney's first year on the high school team.

“My grandma and grandpa Townsend have always done pleasure riding with their quarter horses and my mom and dad grew up with horses.

“I never really liked riding western and going slow like that. I always wanted to try speed, so I did a couple years ago and really liked it.”

Townsend says she takes her horse on rides about three times a week in the summer and fall, about once week in spring.

“We mostly go on trail rides, but sometimes we go other places too.”

Last year her teammate Peterson was a one-person team and entered all 16 classes herself at regionals.

Peterson's interest in horses also began with family. She says Holzschu, her aunt, piqued her interest in horse riding. Because members of family showed horses, she began showing horses with them.

Peterson says she practices with her horse Lenny just about every day. When it comes to showmanship there is a lot to remember.

“We practice equitation. So, it's shoulders back. Your shoulders need to aligned with your hips and your heels. Heels down. Collecting the horse, bending their head. Then working on some patterns, doing it one-handed.

“For states, I'm practicing saddle seat, English and Western, showmanship. I also have one speed event.”

Peterson acknowledges it takes a lot of practice just to get used to the various saddles used during competition.

“The saddle seat saddle is very hard and slippery. It's hard to stay on.”

Some competitions are back-to-back. This requires Peterson to quickly get off her horse and change outfits while Stacey or someone else changes the saddle for her. Then it is off to do her next pattern.

Riding also requires a special relationship between the rider and the horse.

“You have to know what the horse is feeling and the horse knows what you are feeling. So, if you are nervous, the horse will know you are nervous.

“I've had had Lenny for about a year and a half. In the first year, it wasn't the best. Then, we started connecting and things came together.”

Peterson says she hopes to do well, but the competition at state features the best of the best in Michigan. They will be up against other Class D schools.

The Johannesburg-Lewiston team will arrive Thursday morning at the Midland County Fairgrounds, 6905 Eastman Ave., and begin competing in the early afternoon. The competitions will run through early afternoon on Sunday.


MIDLAND – The Johannesburg-Lewiston High School Equestrian Team finished the state finals in Midland last weekend in 10th place. Sydney Townsend finished ninth in Saddleseat Showmanship, third in speed and action and sixth in Cloverleaf. Taylor Peterson placed fourth in in Saddleseat, in Top Six in Showmanship, sixth in Cloverleaf and Top eight in Western and English Classes. “It was a totally different feeling riding in an indoor arena and I learned so much just watching and being a part of a competition at this level,” says Townsend. “The competition was tough and unfortunately I didn't have my best rides.” “My goal was to make it to states this year and that goal was met,” says Peterson. “It was such a good experience.” “Overall I'm thankful for the experience,” says Townsend. “The time my coaches Stacey and Bobbie Holzschu put into helping us, my teammate Taylor, and the amazing support our community gave us. It was so cool getting all the Facebook posts, texts and messages wishing us luck and following how we were doing.” “All in all, it was a good weekend where these girls gained some good experience against the best riders in the state,” adds Coach Stacey Holzschu.

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