November 10, 2010 | 08:58 AM
Horses are a fixture in Walworth County.
Drive down Highways 50 or 36, and there are plenty of stables with horses of all sizes and colors. That high interest in horses has turned into an equestrian club at Badger High School.
And the team is pretty darn good.
The Badger Equestrian Club has only competed two years, but with a recent state championship on Oct. 23 and 24 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, the club made it a perfect two-for- two with Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association (WIHA) state titles.
Badger won the Division C title, which consists of teams with five to six riders, with a total of 151 points over 18 classes which are judged on precision, accuracy, body position and speed, among other things.
Head coach Gail Peteler, said the area interest turned a passion into a high school sport.
"There were a group of parents who wanted their kids involved in an equestrian team," she said. "They requested a club through the district office and Badger High School, and they asked if I could run it. They knew I rode horses, and I said sure."
Peteler is involved with the Walworth County Horse and Pony Project, and she has shown and rode horses for around 40 years. She said every rider on Badger is very experienced, and it was versatility that helped the squad bring home a second straight state title.
"We had a horse/rider combination that was competitive in every event," Peteler said. "We had a rider in all 18 events. Not every school had riders in every event. And we had good riders in each event. Other schools had to fill in spots with riders."
Much like track, Badger was allowed 24 entries at state with five varsity riders. So Peteler had to divide here girls over 18 classes, and one girl could only ride in a maximum of six events.
"It's exactly like track," she said. "I put the girls in the events I thought they could win."
Competing at state were senior Shelby Peteler, junior Jillian Cline, sophomore Becca Gritzuk and freshmen Ashley Sanew and Jeccia Schmieg. Assistant coaches included Jane James, Kristin James, Heidi Hall-Cline and Jacquie Gritzuk. It was a total team effort, as Badger won two events and was in the top 10 in every event except two.
"We only won state by four points," Gail said. "It was just a collective effort."
Gail said Burlington, Elkhorn and East Troy along with other local schools have teams, and there is competition for riders.
"You're getting a lot of school choice," Gail said. "You may have two or three horse nuts from other cities who want to come to Badger just for horsing."
Badger competes on weekends, but the first competition wasn't until Oct. 9. Gail said the club didn't want to interfere much with the football season and homecoming, so it wouldn't have to worry about girls missing any competitions. Gail added that horse riding is similar to other sports.
"The goal is the be the best you can possibly can be," she said. "In the horse world, you get better as you get older. You're using your mind and you must be in good shape. It's like dance, it's not aerobic but disciplined. Your horse must perform a series of precision movements. You have to tell it what to do, but it has to be very subtle. Only the horse should be noticed, not the rider. Some events are judged on speed, but most are based on presentation and showmanship. It's very difficult to do. It takes years to get it right."
A lifelong passion
Gail comes from a family where her mother, father and grandpa all rode and showed horses. She was riding a horse by the age of 2. Gail said it's not a sport where you can just show up in high school and decide you want to ride horses.
"You better have trained since you were little," she said. "It's very hard to show up in high school and be a competitive rider. We are open to everyone. We will teach you how to ride, and as soon as we feel you're ready to join the varsity team, you can compete. We have a beginner class much like junior varsity and a varsity."
Gail loves horses and the sport of riding more than anything.
"It's just my sport," she said. "I enjoy the challenge of it. If you have a problem, you must figure out how to solve it. I like the animals and the partnership as well. A horse is not a robot. It will behave differently from day to day, but it is your responsibility to have patience and teach it. Horse respond to repetitive motion very well."
The future of horse riding is bright. While Gail said it will never get as big as football, she said the school district enjoys having the team.
"It's a very visual sport," she said. "People enjoy seeing us ride horses and seeing us march in local parades. A lot of people around here have horses, and it's a fun, competitive sport."