Erika Rodenski’s passion centers around horses, beginning when her parents plopped her onto a saddle more than a decade ago.
Rodenski, an 18-year-old senior at Fort Cherry High School, is a frequent competitor in equestrian events and has won numerous first-place ribbons and trophies.
She never thought her proficiency in riding her quarter horse – Good Time To Win, which she shortens to Win – would lead to a scholarship offer. It did, from Baylor University, and Rodenski became one of the few riders in Western Pennsylvania to earn such an honor.
“I never thought this would happen,” said Rodenski, who plans to major in nursing. “I started with small fry stuff at 8. I’m really excited.”
If Rodenski needs a role model, she might want to contact Emily Polhemus, a senior at Baylor – located in Waco, Texas – who graduated from Carmichaels High School four years ago. Polhemus also is on scholarship at Baylor and competed in equestrian for four years while working on her degree in political science.
“In my college career, I really enjoyed the teamwork,” said Polhemus. “In college competition, you don’t know the horses real well. There are four or five girls who are going through the same thing you are.”
Equestrian is unique in that the visiting team uses the horses of the home team. Most never rode the animal before, but must quickly become friends.
“There is definitely a home-field advantage,” Polhemus said. “You only get four minutes to warm up to the horse.”
Polhemus and Rodenski each competed in International Equestrian Association events, and Polhemus rides in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Events are available year-round, but the main season runs roughly from May to October.
“It’s an expensive sport,” Rodenski said. “There are entry fees, shots for the horse, shoes, and there is no money payout or I would lose my college eligibility.” Rodenski caught the eyes of the Baylor coaches with her performance in the American Quarter Horse Association Congress – the Super Bowl of the sport – in Columbus, Ohio, in October. She finished in second place in two events of Showmanship, was 10th in Horsemanship, fifth in Western Riding and 10th in Halter. Cindy Walquist, the Western Coach at Baylor, recruited Rodenski. Ellen White is the head coach and Stacy Lane-Sanderson is the assistant Hunter Seat Coach.
“Baylor’s campus is amazing,” said Rodenski, who also was recruited by TCU and Tennessee-Martin. “They saw me (in Columbus) and offered a percentage scholarship.”
Baylor’s program has appeared in six consecutive Varsity Equestrian National Championships and finished third last season. The Bears finished first in the Hunter Seat National Championships in 2011 and won the Big 12 title for the first time in the program’s history in 2010.
Hunter Seat Equitation is a division that is judged on the ability and style of the rider. The riders can be judged over fences and on the flat. In over fences classes, the riders are judged not only on their ability to negotiate a course of jumps on their horses, but also on their style and position as they attempt the jumps.
Equestrian became an emerging sport in the NCAA in 1998 and had six teams – Auburn, Fresno State, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Now, 23 colleges and universities offer a program.
Rodenski spends much of her practice time at an indoor arena in Scenery Hills, where she rides Win.
Somehow, Rodenski finds time for other activities, such as belonging to the high school Ski Club, Business Club and serving on student council. She also is secretary in the local Future Farmers of America and president of the Fire Fighters Club.
“My mom always had horses and introduced me to horses,” she said. “Then it was like, ‘Would you like to compete?’ I’ve won a lot of events, too many to count. I’ll always want to ride.”