Local Equestrian Team Places at Nationals
A cluster of young women leads horses from a barn to a field of green laced with wooden fences. They are decked out in riding gear: jackets, helmets and tall, black boots. It could be a scene from 19th century England, but it’s a modern-day weekend in Butler County. The young women of the Honey Tree Stables Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) Team work and laugh together, a team of confident equestrians, a sisterhood.
Twelve local teens make up the team, spanning grades six through twelve. Honey Tree Stables of Oxford has hosted the team for two years, competing with IEA around the country from September to May. IEA competitions are uniquely equalized. No rider is required to own a horse; horses from each show’s host barn are selected by random draw among competitors. Riders and horses work through a course of jumps together within minutes of when they are introduced. Contestants are judged on their horsemanship and how they handle a horse that is new to them.
Under the direction of coaches Sarah Oelerich and Laura Kursman, the team ended this season with a rank in the top 22 of nearly 600 teams at Nationals in Lexington, Virginia.
As they mingle with one another and the horses, the team exhibits a noticeable camaraderie. Although they compete against each other individually, they work together as a team with mutual trust, respect and friendship.
“At the end of the day, they need each other to do well. That’s how they got to Nationals. It wasn’t one person, it was everyone—everyone bringing their game to succeed, “ explains Oelerich, team coach and owner of Honey Tree Stables.
“The team is like a second family,” says team member Victoria Lake of Oxford.
“My teammates act like sisters to me,” agrees Angylynn Kiss of Liberty Township. “We came to Honey Tree for a lesson and I really liked it here. It was like coming home.”
Lauren Obermeyer started riding at age seven, when her mom sent her to horse camp against her wishes. The Fairfield graduate is now off to the University of Findlay this fall where she will continue competing at the college level.
“This is my barn family. Honey Tree is home!” Obermeyer says, arms wide in a gesture to the rolling hills around her. “The team is only two years old and has already accomplished so much,” she adds. “I am bummed I don’t get to watch these middle school girls. When they get to high school, they are going to kill it!”
Competition brings more than horsemanship skills. In preparation for the arena, these young women learn life lessons.
“It’s awesome to see the team develop because they develop more than riding skills,” Coach Laura Kursman of Liberty Township shares. She’s not only coach, but also mom to team member Meaghan Kursman. “It’s about leadership and consistency and compassion. It’s about so much more than the riding. The riding is small compared to what the girls get in leadership and perseverance.”
Oelerich agrees. “Think of how these skills transfer into the schoolyard. It’s hard to be bullied when it just doesn’t work on you. Confidence is key.”
GG Dombrowski of Liberty Township is one of the Nationals competitors on the middle school team. “I have learned a lot from Sarah and Laura,” Dombrowski says. “I am excited for next year on the high school team.”
Dombrowski’s parents, Dean and Paula Dombrowski, are equally as excited.
“We see an unlimited potential with GG’s riding ability and horsemanship skills,” Dean says. “GG is a unique individual with an amazing talent and we find ourselves enjoying the journey as much as she does.”
Honey Tree Stables is a special place. Oelerich took ownership from her father in 1999. She lives a legacy of deep love and understanding of equines. Honey Tree is known as a place of restoration for injured animals and horses healing from trauma.
“The one common thing that pulls everybody together here is this ground—and I call this magical ground, holy ground out here. It works for the people as much as it does for the horses,” Oelerich explains.
“I let the riders use the sport and the horses in general to get to know themselves a little better and bring their own confidence out, so they can find that next growth step in their soul,” Oelerich says.
The Honey Tree Stables IEA Team is taking the reins, with their horses and in their lives.