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Dances with horses: Local drill team takes top honors

Nine area young women--and their horses--displayed serious skill last week in a statewide competition, earning them a first-place title. The Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team took home top honors in the unique event, which involves ...

The Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team competes at the state competition earlier this month. The team took home first-place honors. Submitted photo
The Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team competes at the state competition earlier this month. The team took home first-place honors. Submitted photo

Nine area young women-and their horses-displayed serious skill last week in a statewide competition, earning them a first-place title.

The Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team took home top honors in the unique event, which involves choreographing the movements of horses and their riders to a musical routine. Their victory did not come without adversity, however.

An equine health scare at the State 4-H Horse Show in September forced postponement of the team competition and hundreds of horses into quarantine. The drill team events were cancelled at the state fairgrounds and a makeup event was planned in Lindstrom last week.

To prepare for the big show, the group began practicing together twice a week in May. This year, three of the team members were new to the sport, while the remaining six members have multiple years of experience. Still, most of the participants have been riding horses the majority of their lives.

Along with three new team members was also an entirely new coaching staff-Amy Borgstrom, Jeff Meier and Maria Minten.

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"There's one of the coaches who has never been on a horse," Minten, whose daughter Rylee Minten has been on the team for five years, said. "I sit on a horse, hold the reins and hope for a best. The other coach actually rides. So it was kind a new experience for all of us."

Participants must be 12 years old to compete. To the tune of a medley of three songs, the team seeks the cooperation of their horses to perform moves such as the circle, pinwheel, whip, arrow, thread the needle and serpentine to center. The competition requires completing three of the six moves, and teams are judged on consistent spacing and alignment, horse manners, choreographic variety and numerous other factors.

"It's kind of like watching synchronized swimming," Minten said. "A lot of it has to do with how the team moves as a group."

Both the riders and horses are adorned in matching costumes. The inclusion of flags in a routine increases the difficulty and makes it possible for the team to earn a higher score-a challenge the Crow Wing County team took on in this year's performance.

"Sometimes it gets tough, because there's lots of girls, so there's lots of drama," said Samantha Meier, one of the team's captains. "But we get through it and we're like a big family."

"The toughest part is you have nine teenage girls of different riding capabilities, plus nine nearly 1,000-pound animals, and to try to get everybody moving synchronically is a task," Minten said.

The team arrived in St. Paul last month, ready to perform the routine they'd been practicing all summer. But on the morning of Sept. 18, a horse on the grounds began exhibiting neurological symptoms and was euthanized.

Because the cause of the symptoms was unknown and could have been equine herpesvirus 1-a contagious virus that can cause neurological disease, respiratory disease and neonatal death in horses, according to the University of Minnesota-organizers required participants to take precautions. While much of the show went on, the drill team events were cancelled because fewer than half of the teams had arrived when the horse fell ill.

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Participants were instructed to potentially quarantine their horses for up to three weeks, the amount of time it takes for symptoms to present. By Sept. 22, however, test results returned negative for the virus, prompting a sigh of relief throughout the horse show community.

The show went on last week in Lindstrom, although Minten said not all teams originally planning to compete were able to attend the rescheduled event. Even so, the Crow Wing County team was victorious over six other teams, falling just seven points shy of a perfect score.

The team consisted of Meier, co-captain Shania Robinson, Rylee Minten, Alex Keating, Sierra Hunes, Kaitlyn Borgstrom, Maddie Bernie, Ashley Foust and Ashlin Schneider.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Team co-captain Samantha Meier, center, and her horse George perform as part of the Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team at the state competition. The team placed first among seven participating teams. Submitted photo
Team co-captain Samantha Meier, center, and her horse George perform as part of the Crow Wing County 4-H Large Freestyle Drill Team at the state competition. The team placed first among seven participating teams. Submitted photo

Related Topics: 4-H
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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