Every little girl who grew up loving horses owned a book from the Saddle Club series – a group of books that chronicle the shenanigans and tales of three best friends as they compete and show on their beloved horses.
Allie Rhoads, 13, Peyton Roy, 13, and Sarah Strain, 14, are living out their own version of the Saddle Club tale in Cecil Township. Rhoads and Roy, both of Peters Township, and Strain, of Upper St. Clair, all compete as part of an equestrian team for Caustelot Farms in McDonald. The girls and their teammates compete in horse shows as part of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. The IEA invites students in sixth through 12th grade to compete, even when they don’t have their own horse. Riders compete with a team or on an individual basis. The middle school team from Caustelot Farms, coached by Kathleen Marciak, placed fourth at the national competition in Oklahoma City last month.
“When I get ready to go in, I think I’m going to mess up,” Strain said. “(My) hands are shaking, (but I) go in and forget about it.”
The girls competed both individually and as a team. Before the girls made it to nationals, they had to persevere through a lot of competitions and hard work. The competition season lasts from September to March, and to even make it to nationals the girls first have to make it to zones. The IEA has seven zones across the United States. For the second year in a row, the team from Caustelot Farms won at the zone and moved on to nationals.
Preparing for nationals, each girl had a minimum of two riding lessons a week, according to Marciak. And to help prepare for the competition, the girls sometimes switched horses at their lessons. At the competition, “It’s a draw,” Strain’s mother, Amy, said. Each girl is assigned a horse at random when she competes, and under pressure and with little time, must adjust to each horses’ quirks and personality.
“(It’s) fun to switch,” Roy said. Roy competes in Future Beginner, and the team must have one girl compete in each category: beginner, novice and intermediate.
“(The) description of horse and handler helps,” Rhoads chimed in as the girls discussed the stress of competition. Rhoads competed in Future Novice, and Strain added that she thinks the random horse draw is one of the best parts of the competition.
Marciak said she felt good about the team’s chances going to nationals. “(I was) kind of excited,” she said. “(They’re) a strong team.” This was the team’s third time attending nationals. The first year, Marciak said, the team placed eighth, but last year didn’t place at all. And this year, it was a close competition.
“(We) were tied for first for a while and then were in a three-way tie for second,” Marciak said. “(But we) had to look at the big picture. We made it to nationals.”
“They were all on their A-game and gave it their heart and soul,” Strain’s mother added. Strain competed in Future Intermediate and was the reserve champion for one of the classes. Marciak said one of her favorite moments at the competition came when she saw Strain’s excited face as she was announced as reserve champion.
“I didn’t see that,” Amy Strain said. “I was crying.” Amy was one of 23 people who traveled to Oklahoma City to watch the girls compete.
“(You) kind of just forget they’re there,” Roy said. Roy finished the competition by placing eighth individually in Future Beginner Horsemanship and sixth for the team. Strain finished with a second place in individual reining, third in reining for the team and fourth for the team overall. Rhoads finished the competition with a seventh place in individual horsemanship and third for the team.
“(You) have to have a good attitude,” Rhoads said, “and not be too confident, so if you don’t win, you don’t get so upset.”
Along with Rhoads, Roy and Strain, Caustelot Farms sent team captain Katelynn Greenawalt, Zoe Hoffman, Casey McCoy and Kacy Capra to compete.
“Everyone on the team is very humble,” Rhoads’ father, Chet, said. “They’re kicking butt, but (are) humble and good sports.”