Bellevue Equestrian Team coach, Kathleen McNees, had big boots to fill in her first year as head coach, but she has proven that boots are made for kicking up dust. That is just what her and her team are doing, having qualified for the upcoming regional horse show.
The team had previously been coached for 25 years by local horse trainer and youth mentor, Sam (Kathy) Schroder. “I struggled to take over for Sam,” said Coach McNees, “She was our backbone. But we are family and they (the team) have been really supportive of me not being Sam.” Many of the kids had been mentored for most of their lives by Schroder, including Coach McNees.
McNees hasn’t missed a beat. This Regional qualification is the third year in a row for the team, new coach and all. The Bellevue Equestrian Team is comprised of eight competitors. The horse shows are seventeen classes encompassing equine events of showmanship, saddleseat, hunt seat, western and gymkahana which are known as speed events.
The team is preparing for regionals with a rest for horses and riders after a long weekend of competition and then they will have two more practices together. These practices consist of private help with the coach on riding patterns and group coaching on rail work with assistant coaches Jessica Steele and Kristina Herr to optimize the team skills for regional competition. “We will strategically place all of our riders to give us the best chance to go to State,” said McNees.
Leading the team into success is Bellevue senior Jasmine Ballard. “She started riding a handful of years ago, but she’s grown into a phenomenal rider and an awesome leader,” boasted McNees. While the students compete individually, they are gaining team points for advancement to State finals. “I think we have a really good shot,” the coach added.
The team is a family and come to each other’s rescue when needed. On their way to the last horse show a competitor had a tire blow on their horse trailer at 6:30 in the morning. The team rallied, including former Coach Schroder. The SOS was sent, and many hands unloaded the horses, fixed the tire and got that rider back in the saddle to enter the arena on time. “It was an ordeal,” laughed McNees. Clearly, nothing the Bellevue Equestrian Team can’t handle.
McNees and team are looking forward to showcasing their mounted prowess at Regionals with great expectations of a seat at State finals. “They are really stepping up the competition, but I think they will hold their own,” McNees said of the Bellevue Equestrian Team.
With final words from former Coach Schroder, “It’s in my blood, but I like to watch now. 25 years is a long time for a coach to stay in place. Now I am watching children of kids I coached ride on their teams. Wishing the Bellevue team success on their bid at regional…. And have fun!” The Bellevue Equestrian Team will compete at Regionals September 29 through October 1 in Berrien Springs, Michigan.