Journal on the Road

Varsity Equestrian National Championships Day One

April 15, 2011

For one competitor, this year’s Varsity Equestrian National Championships is a bittersweet weekend.

By Larri Jo Starkey

Alecia Zimbelman, left, warms up her favorite school horse, Colonel Shiner Nic, at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships in Waco, Texas. To see more photos from the competition, scroll to the slide show below. (Larri Jo Starkey photo)

For four years, Alecia Zimbelman of Saint Francis, Kansas, has been a Wildcat, representing Kansas State University at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships in reining.

This year is the senior’s last.

“It’s going to be very sad,” Alecia says of the last time she rides this weekend. “It will be nice for a little break, because we’ve been working very hard … but it will be very sad, because I like these girls a lot and the whole experience.”

For the KSU team, the whole experience has included gym workouts three times a week, plus as many as five riding sessions a week, depending on impending competitions.

In Varsity Equestrian competition, riders from two schools ride the same horse on the same pattern. The rider with the better score earns a point for her team. Eight riders compete in horsemanship and reining – four apiece – for eight possible points. The college with more points wins the duel and advances to the next round of the tournament bracket. The losing college goes to the consolation bracket.

Slide into the excitement of reining with AQHA World Champion reining exhibitor Craig Johnson. Whether you are just starting to ride or you are polishing a performance reining horse for competition, Craig helps you soften and smooth the working relationship with your horse in AQHA’s Reining Basics with Craig Johnson DVD.

It can seem confusing at times, and Alecia had to field a lot of questions this year: She’s the team’s only senior, and she had to take on a team leadership role after most of the 2010 reserve championship western team graduated.

“I had always been the one who followed all the older girls,” she says. “They’d been here a year longer than me, and I was the only one left. It was a big transition for me to be in that position. But I really enjoyed it, and I’ve gotten to know these girls better, and they’re a great group of girls.”

In her youth career, Alecia competed in working cow horse in AQHA and the National Reined Cow Horse Association. For KSU, she’s a reiner, riding a different horse at every meet.

“I really like (riding different horses) because it evens out the playing field,” she says of the Varsity system. “It’s not so much about money or outfits, because everyone wears the same outfit. You draw the horse you get. It’s more on your natural talent.

“It was different for me to come here because the reiners aren’t schooled a lot in the arena, so they’re very smart in the arena. You always have to be one step ahead of them and really thinking. It made me a lot better rider. When I went home and rode my own horse, I said, I really appreciate you now; you’re not so bad. It was a big difference.”

Next year, Alecia will be in veterinary school at KSU. Despite the workload, she thinks she’ll miss the team.

“It’s been a big part of my life the last four years,” she says. “It will kind of be the same because I’ll be there and I’ll get to go out and ride with (the team) whenever I get a chance, but I won’t practice and get to compete.”

This weekend, she’s making the most of her last competition.

AQHA is a sponsor of the Varsity Equestrian program. To see more photos from the first day of competition, watch the slide show below. Click on each photo to read the caption.

In the Reining Basics with Craig Johnson DVD, AQHA World Champion reining exhibitor Craig Johnson demonstrates how the working relationship between horse and rider softens and becomes increasingly responsive, until the cues are nearly invisible. Order your copy today!

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