November 16, 2011 | 07:27 AMBLOOMFIELD — When Gail Peteler started the Badger High School equestrian club three years ago, she simply wanted an avenue for horse lovers to have some fun and compete at the same time.
But what she has now is a bona fide winner that is setting an excellence standard in the ways of horsemanship.
Badger sent another group of three to five girls to this fall's Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association state meet at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, and for the third straight year, they came back to Badger with championship glory.
Badger captured its third straight title in style, scoring 170 points, 39 ahead of second-place Oregon at the nine-team event.
Peteler said winning was a bit more difficult this year.
"The competition gets harder every year," she said. "More teams keep joining. This year, we really had to use strategy. We maximized our strengths and shuffled some kids around. We had some girls in events we didn't compete in last year. We didn't waste any entries."
Badger placed in all events except one. They competed in Division C, which allows three to five riders. The four Badger girls were Jillian Cline, Ashley Sanew, Samantha Tisdall and Jessica Schmieg.
Peteler also mentioned the efforts of assistant coaches Heidi Hall-Cline, Jane James, Kristin James and Shelby Peteler, who were instrumental in putting the club in the best position to win.
After Gail's daughter Shelby graduated last year, someone had to step up in her place. This year, it was Tisdall, a freshman.
"Her expertise is jumping," Gail Peteler said.
Peteler added Jillian Cline has been a real asset to the team.
"Jillian excels in speed events," Gail Peteler said. "Her horse Scout is very responsive to her, especially in barrels and poles events."
Sanew, a Burlington resident, school choices to Badger. With her saddle-bred Jezebel, Sanew offers a different element to the sport.
"She is a saddle rider," Gail Peteler said. "It's a different style and the horses show animation. Sanew excels in driving and equitation (presentation). She tried a new event and did very well in it."
Schmieg, who rides Chip and Twister, also was a team player.
"Jessica really stepped up to the plate," Gail Peteler said. "She filled a void where we didn't have an entry. She was strong in barrels, poles and relay races."
Badger competed in two shows before state. They beat out five other teams at the district level before state. The season is solely in the month of October.
Program still new
Showing horses takes a lifetime of hard work. As with any sport, practice makes perfect.
The Badger riders take riding lessons at Whispering Oaks in Genoa City. Right now, there are roughly 20 kids in the program, but only four were ready for state.
Funding can be an issue at times. Parents completely fund riding lessons, and each show costs a flat fee of $70 per student. However, there are only two shows before state. Each student must have his or her own horse to compete. Tack on stall rental and camping fees, and last month's state meet got a bit pricey.
"We don't get any funding because we're considered a club," Gail Peteler said. "Parents must transport kids at their own expense. But the high school is very generous, and they let me do whatever I need to do. If I have to leave early or need a day off for a show, they're great."
It's Gail Peteler's ultimate goal to receive funding for horse lessons. She said equestrian competition requires years of practice and hard work, and lessons are vital.
While some may think the sport is about sitting on a horse and riding, the intricacies can be maddening. There is a great deal of athleticism involved. Riders can't roll their shoulders over, and you can't ride a horse cock-eyed. They also must pull their stomachs in and arch their back, all while the horse is in motion. There must be a body awareness from head to toe, according to Gail Peteler.
"All cues are invisible, and you can't let judges see what you're doing," Gail Peteler said. "You can only use your voice and weight to cue the horse. If you want to turn right, you must shift your weight on your right side. You have to put pressure on your left calf and turn your head slightly. It's all about subtlety."
The future of the club is bright. Girls will begin receiving letters next season. Also, besides senior Jillian Cline, three of four state competitors will be back next year.
With local competition from Wilmot, East Troy, Burlington, Waterford already, Gail Peteler believes the sport will only grow.
Gail Peteler still competes, and she loves how equestrian is a lifelong sport where you don't peak at 18.
"It's a character developer," she said. "You have failure, and you must regroup and go on. It's a life lesson. You may get turned down for a job but you can't fall apart. And you're working with a living thing, not a robot. You must be patient and perceptive and learn not to lose your temper. Most girls won't remember their school classes, but they will remember the horse team."