BERRIEN SPRINGS — High school equestrian teams from River Valley, Bridgman and New Buffalo all claimed district titles this year, with the Mustangs and Bees advancing to state.

River Valley also won a C Division regional championship at the fairgrounds in Berrien Springs before placing third at the 2021 Michigan Interscholastic Horesmanship Association (MIHA) State Finals held Oct. 13-17 in Midland, Michigan.

Bridgman battled to a hard-fought runner-up finish at regionals and took fifth at state in the B Division.

“It was a year to remember for all!” said River Valley head coach Kaitlynn Miller, adding that this was River Valley’s first time at state in 30-plus years.

She said the all sophomore team of Emma Zeiger, DJ Freehling, and Allison Kirk each had their own challenges they had to overcome such as learning new horses, dealing with injured horses, and learning new disciplines.

“We’ve been practicing for a really long time … and this is our pay-back,” Freehling said.

Kirk noted that the Mustangs had to place in the last class (barrels) to get the win at regionals, and they did.

“It was super-cool because it was the first time River Valley has won regionals,” she said.

Miller said she and coach Katerina Klopfenstein were excited that the riders’ hard work was rewarded.

“The team would like to thank all of those who sponsored and donated money to the team to help with etate expenses,” she said. “We are very thankful to have such an amazing community and support.”

Bridgman head coach Erin Weber said, “Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, but the team always seemed to find a way to come out on top.”

“Each one of the girls, at districts, regionals, and state, often found themselves going into classes they have never done before (or had very little prep time for) just minutes before they needed to be in the ring. Their commitment to their horses, themselves, and their teammates really came to light this year and I don’t think we could have made it as far as we did without it,” she said.

Out of the four riders who went to state for the Bees, Weber said only one of them had previously competed at that level (senior Samantha Rydwelski). Also on the Bridgman team during their postseason run were Mallorie Griffiths, Elise Schmaltz, Emma Fanslau and Lilly Morse.

Weber said her assistant coaches (Anna Schmaltz, Alyssa Rosenthal, and Ali Reifschneider) showed an immense amount of dedication to the girls this year. She also thanked Anna Kietzerow, Sarah Schmaltz, Brie Schmitz, and Johanna Ytterberg for sharing their horses with the girls.

New Buffalo coach Alicia Holub said the Bison (a two-rider team of Camille Czech and Kristen Wamser) have reached regionals two years in a row (before that the last time was 2012).

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