History-making MTSU Equestrian team Wins first Western National Championship

May 26, 2023 at 01:26 pm by WGNS News

Photo Above This Article: Keeping the tradition of biting medals they just received, Middle Tennessee State University equestrian team members include, from left, coach Ariel Higgins, Audrey Ferrie, Sadio Barnes, Mackenzie Latimer, Jordan Martin, Jessie Kauffman and assistant coach Andrea Rego. The team earned the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Western championship — a first for the Blue Raider program — at the national competition at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., May 7. (Photo by Danielle Dunn)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — For the first time in school history, the Middle Tennessee State University equestrian team took home the Western National Championship trophy at the 2023 Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championship.


Held earlier in May at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, five Blue Raider riders qualified as a western team and four riders qualified individually through placing top four at semifinals earlier in the spring. 

In a down-to-the-wire finish, MTSU edged St. Andrews University and Midway College by one point after MTSU’s Jordan Martin placed second in Team Open Horsemanship, the last team class of the day.

“They came together and exhibited poise, consistency and humble gratitude under an immense amount of pressure,” said Ariel Higgins, head coach and director of the equestrian programs. “They were inspiring to watch. They cheered each other on, took fabulous care of the six horses we brought and had fun every step of the way.”

Junior horse science major Sadio Barnes of Miami, Florida, said “all of the long hours and early practices led up to this moment. I am so thankful to be coached by two incredible people, Ariel Higgins and (assistant coach) Andrea Rego.

Notable achievements included a team beginner class national championship and team open class reserve national championship by Barnes and Martin, a junior horse science major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 

Martin received top honors in the Back on Track High Point Western Rider competition, with a field of 20 riders nationwide qualifying for this special event in their regions by competing successfully in both the open reining and horsemanship. Fifth overall in 2022, Martin placed second overall this year, making her the reserve national champion. 

In addition to qualifying riders, MTSU hauled six horses used in the May 2-7 national competition draw format.

To learn more about the MTSU equestrian team, which is part of the horse science program in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences’ School of Agriculture, email Ariel.Higgins@mtsu.edu.

Team awards  

  • Martin was the Team Open Horsemanship reserve national champion and placed fourth in Team Open Reining.
  • Barnes was the national champion in Team Beginner Western Horsemanship.
  • Jessie Kauffman, a juniornursing major from Woodbury, Tennessee, placed fourth in the Team Rookie Horsemanship. 
  • Mackenzie Latimer, a juniordietetics and horse science major from Millbrook, New York,  placed third in the Team Level 1 Horsemanship.   
  • Audrey Ferrie, a juniorbusiness administration major from Warren, Pennsylvania, placed fourth in the Team Level 2 Horsemanship and third in the Team Ranch Riding. 

Individual class awards 

  • Martin, in addition to Back on Track Reserve Highpoint Western Rider, placed sixth in Individual Open Horsemanship. 
  • Madison Westbrook, a senior nursing major from Murfreesboro, placed seventh in Individual Level 1 Horsemanship. 
  • Louann Braunwalder, a junior horse science andfermentation science major from Lascassas, Tennessee, placed third in Individual Level 1 Horsemanship. 
  • Hannah Price, a junior horse science major from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, placed third in Individual Beginner Horsemanship.

Coaching, volunteer honors - Higgins and former coach/equestrian team director Anne Brzezicki, of Murfreesboro, received special IHSA recognition. Higgins received the coaches’ Sportsmanship Award; Brzezicki was presented the Volunteer Service Award, and she announced she was stepping down as a volunteer. 

About the IHSA - The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, or IHSA, welcomes beginners through advanced riders in the hunter and Western disciplines to compete individually or on a team. Men and women compete with and against each other. IHSA includes 40 regions in eight zones with more than 400 member colleges in 45 states and Canada, and represents 10,000 members in hunter seat equitation on the flat and over fences, Western horsemanship, ranch riding and reining. Divisions range from Beginner to the Open Division for the more experienced riders. 

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