Melissa Maykut, Staff Writer

With a dominating performance at the Zone 6 Hunt Seat Finals hosted by Otterbein University April 9, Miami University’s hunt seat riding team rode away with the victory, which qualified them for Nationals.

Overall, the hunt seat team earned a score of 49 points, 13 points higher than second place University of Kentucky (UK).

Led by head coach Heather Pinnick, this is the first time the team has made it to Zones or Nationals since 2006.

“We’ve been working really hard and we were just going into it to just do our best,” Pinnick said. “We started our day with a winning ride and it just went on from there.”

Hunt seat is forward-seat riding; the horse’s movement and form are judged, as well as the rider’s equitation or position on the horse.

Whether competing on the flat or over the fences, the rider needs to have proper leg position with weight in the heels, good posture and have their eyes looking up.

Facing strong and experienced teams like the University of Findlay and UK, Miami’s hunt seat team took Zones by storm, placing in the top three spots for all eight team classes of the competition. Miami also placed in five of the eight individual classes.

Rider Tom Schoen was victorious in the Walk-Trot, while Krysten Kasting placed second in the Walk-Trot-Canter.

Maddie Macleod finished second in the novice flat class, while teammate Allie Drost rode away with the novice fences title.

At the intermediate level, Kelly Herdman won the flat class and Kitty Sarosy won the fences.

In the open level, the smallest division of all eight classes, Maddie Smith placed first in the flat class. Jamie Donovan jumped to a first place finish in the open fences class.

Compared to teams like Findlay and Kentucky, Miami has less experience at Zones and Nationals and does not have an indoor arena, which cuts the team’s practices down to one or two a week during the winter.

“No one expected us to do as well as we did, but we deserved it,” Donovan said.

In the individual classes, Emily Turville placed first in the Walk-Trot class. Kat Gitz finished fifth in the intermediate flat, but rode to a first place victory in the novice fences.

Jamie Yeager finished third in the intermediate fences and Smith finished seventh in the open flat.

“I could hear the team cheer for me even though I wasn’t competing for the team,” Gitz said. “It was as if I was competing for the team and that was really special. It shows that the team is very united.”

Over Gitz’s four years as a rider, the 60-person team has grown into a family. They give each other pep talks before competitions and have even made up team cheers. During Zones, the team held onto little four-leaf clover lucky charms the coaches had given them while a teammate was competing.

“We bring a whole new kind of spirit to Zones and the sport,” Gitz said.

The team will be weight lifting, swimming, and riding as many different horses as possible to get physically and mentally prepared for Nationals May 5 and 6. Kentucky is the second team from Zone 6 that will compete at Nationals. Findlay placed third at Zones, failing to qualify for Nationals for the first time in 10 years.