Jefferson County high school senior Emily Kilgore, on Antonio, is the first in the area to qualify to compete at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s National Dressage Finals this coming weekend in Texas. To up the competitive skill needed, riders compete on unfamiliar horses whose names they’ve drawn from a hat. (Karen Griffiths/for Peninsula Daily News)

HORSEPLAY: Jefferson senior goes to Interscholastic Equestrian Association finals in her first season

AT HER INTERSCHOLASTIC Equestrian Association’s (IEA) regional competition in April, Jefferson County equestrian Emily Kilgore placed first in both her classes, racking up the points to break a tie which earned she and her teammates a place next weekend at the IEA National Finals competition.

Heron Pond Farm Trainer Christine Headley said the high school senior joined the IEA last fall with the goal to compete at the nationals, and since then, she has been working hard to improve her riding skills while striving to have the correct body position in dressage competitions, as well as riding as many horses as she could going into the regional competition.

She’s now ecstatic to see Kilgore’s hard word pay off as she goes on to compete at the IEA Dressage National Finals held in Tyler, Texas, on May 15-16.

“All of us here are so excited for her and will be cheering her on from home,” Headley said.

Kilgore said she couldn’t have qualified for the nationals without Headley’s “amazing coaching and support.”

IEA is for those in fourth through 12th grades who wish to develop his or her competitive riding skills in a team environment in three disciplines: Hunt Seat, Western and Dressage. Riders do not even need to own a horse or horse tack — such as a saddle or bridle — to participate.

IEA differs from other youth equestrian organizations because riders don’t ride their own horses in the competitions; they ride horses furnished by the host barn, which removes the need to own a horse trailer and/or finding someone to haul it for you to events. Same with practices.

“It’s similar to equestrian team competitions in college,” Headley said.

Just prior to a competitive event, the rider draws out of a hat the name of the horse they will ride. Limited schooling with the horse is permitted just prior to the event. It’s felt that equalizes competition variables and tests the contestants’ horsemanship.

To qualify for the regional competition, the student needs to accrue at least 15 points over the season. First place is seven points, second place is five points and third place is three points.

Emily has 29 points going to the nationals.

“One of the cool things about this organization is that you don’t have to own a horse, which makes it more accessible to kids,” Headley said.

At the nationals in Texas, Kilgore will be able to fly down for the competition without worrying about transporting her horse.

The goal

Kilgore first heard about IEA though Headley’s Facebook posts and comments with her childhood friend and fellow Pony Club teammate, Kim Barber, urging her to start up a team at Heron Pond Farm. Barber’s team is Creidmount Saddle Club, based in Bellingham; she is also regional zone president.

Headley had thought about forming her own team, but she already had her hands full with an active young son, horses to train and lessons to give, plus her own Pony Club to run.

Kilgore saw the posts, contacted Barber directly and then approached Headley at the beginning of the season and said, “I’m going to join IEA this year, and I’m going to try to qualify for nationals.”

Oh, wow, that’s quite a high goal for someone new to the IEA, Headley thought. And yet, “Here we are,” Headley said. “She’s qualified for nationals.”

Hard work

It’s a testament to how hard Kilgore has worked and concentrated on attaining her goal.

“It’s really cool because she ended up being an anchor rider for her team. And basically, for a team to qualify, you have to score the most points at regional. Before Emily’s two classes, her team and another team were tied. By winning her two classes, Emily broke the tie, which qualified her whole team for nationals,” Headley said.

“So all five of us get to go to Texas,” Kilgore said.

“I’m not certain, but I think she’s the first rider in Jefferson County to be a member of IEA. But I do know she’s the first one to compete at the nationals,” Headley said with pride.

“I train with Christine full-time here and then every couple months go over to Bellingham for a group lesson with the team, and I go there to the competitions the team hosts,” Kilgore said.

“Everyone just shows up and hops on a horse,” Kilgore said. “When we have a show in Bellingham, my coach will post the event on Facebook asking the horse community if anyone has a horse available for the competition. Kimberly will then talk with the owner and check the horse out.”

Owners who want their horse to experience different riders and in different show venues respond to the invitation. The owner then specifies which type of rider will fit their horse best, such as a beginner, intermediate or advanced.

It truly does test the rider’s skills to compete on different horses to see how well they adapt and manage.

“You just go in the show ring and figure out the horse as you go,” Kilgore said, adding she loved the challenge.

“I’m hopeful next season I’ll have more riders from my barn join IEA,” Headley said.

“I think I’d be fun to get more attraction from Jefferson County,” Kilgore said.

It’s heartwarming to see a kind and goal-oriented gal achieve success. I’ll be among those cheering her on at nationals and elsewhere as she follows her dreams.

For more information about Heron Pond Farm, contact Headley at 360-286-9256 or [email protected].

To contact Barber, call 360-790-0673 or email [email protected].

For more about IEA, visit


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

Emily Kilgore puts Antonio through his paces as she practices for Interscholastic Equestrian Association's nationals competition in Tyler, Texas, next weekend. (Karen Griffiths/for Peninsula Daily News)

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