Local youth return to national competition

Photo submitted to Times Observer Ryleigh Bowers, 14, of Warren, along with Alex Hangge and Alivia Hoffman, is competing this week at YEDA Nationals in McDonald, Tenn.

You are saying something when you compete in your sport on a national stage.

For the second straight year, Warren’s Alex Hangge and Ryleigh Bowers will compete at the Youth Equestrian Development Association Nationals taking place now through Sunday in McDonald, Tennessee. Joining team captain Hangge and Bowers for the first time will be Alivia Hoffman at the elementary level.

The Youth Equestrian Development Association, or YEDA, is a program for youth from elementary to high school ages (grades 4-12), as well as first-year college students in an alumni division. The style of riding through YEDA is Western Type — rail horsemanship, pattern horsemanship, ranch riding, and reining.

The riders who participate in YEDA practice all year — at home and with their YEDA coaches. The divisions are coed, meaning boys and girls compete together.

Very much like the sport of track and field, there is an individual score and placement, then that individual score transfers to a total team score.

Photo submitted to Times Observer Alex Hangge, 18, of Warren, along with Ryleigh Bowers and Alivia Hoffman, is competing this week at YEDA Nationals in McDonald, Tenn.

Hangge, Bowers and Hoffman (her first time at Nationals) compete for nationally-ranked M&M Equestrians and are coached by Shauna Brown of Union City.

What makes this national competition so different, riders do not utilize their own horses; there is a blind draw at each competition. The riders or coaches pull a number associated with a specific horse. The rider then uses that horse for their competition class. Riders use a different horse for each class.

Riding many horses gives participants a chance to experience diversity in their riding, making them better overall riders because they learn to handle different situations.

“My coach, Shauna Brown, is the reason why I’m where I am today with my horsemanship skills,” said Bowers, 14, who is in her sixth year riding and second at nationals. “YEDA has taught me a lot about trusting the animal that’s underneath you. YEDA has given me the experiences to show against tough riders from across the country.”

Participants have to qualify for nationals during a regular season, and M&M Equestrians is the top-ranked junior high division and high school division team in the nation in YEDA.

Last year, both Alex and Ryleigh placed within the top 10 at nationals, and this is Alivia’s first year competing at this level and her first year on the team.

It’s Hangge’s fourth trip to nationals and, as an 18-year-old Warren Area High School graduate, her last trip.

“My ultimate goal was to improve my skill level in horse versatility,” said Hangge. “This experience has given me the opportunity to become a patient and understanding horseman of the industry. Performing briefly with several different horses has taught me about the importance of perseverance out of failure.

“It has been an immensely humbling experience for sure, and I am so honored perform against the best youth horsemen/women in the nation,” added Hangge.


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