Hours of riding practice, weekends spent in the barn and an endless affinity for their horses unite two Alverno students who are making their mark in the local equestrian scene. As athletes, sophomore Tessa Brandstater and junior Eryn Blakely are showcasing the stamina and strength it takes to ride and guide their horses, all the while experiencing a great connection between human and animal.

Riding since she was seven years old, Brandstater started “showing” (being a serious competitor) for three years. “I’ve been around horses my whole childhood and my mom had one and it was natural for me to want to ride,” she explains.

Admittedly, her first time on a horse was “a little scary,” Brandstater admits. “Not the horse, but the instructor; she was very ‘firm’ and she was the one that scared me more!”

Recently, Brandstater represented Alverno at the Saddleseat and Western School League (SWSL) competition at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. She brought home two blue ribbons and one red ribbon from that event, competing in the Freshman Division atop Aura, a saddlebred Palomino, and placed in Equitation (where the rider is judged) and Pleasure Class (where more emphasis is placed on how the horse is showing.)

Brandstater was in the Novice Division last year so moving up this year meant demonstrating at a higher skill level with more difficult patterns in the ring. In addition, this higher level means she has earned privileges like wearing a jacket and the opportunity to ride more advanced horses. She got the chance to canter with Aura (her first time doing so) and she says, “I think I did very well.”

The SWSL is a fairly new league, a U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) affiliate which means riders will have to perform to those highest standards. In addition, the USEF has just introduced a high school varsity letter program, in which Brandstater is excited to participate; she will have to put in more than 100 riding hours each year to earn her letter.

The hours she puts into riding (she trains at Bennett Farms in Burbank) doesn’t seem like work to Brandstater, even though it can be physically taxing. “When I’m cantering and galloping I feel like I’m flying,” she says. “Really, when I’m riding I feel like I am one with that horse.”

Meanwhile, Eryn Blakely recently won three blue ribbons at Showcase Stables’ horse show in Redlands, her first competition riding Havana Knights. Blakely calls the event a “warm-up” to see where she and the 16.2 hand thoroughbred are in preparation to represent Alverno in the first IEL (Interscholastic Equestrian League) show at the end of October at Hansen Dam.

And a very successful warm-up it was! Blakely and Havana Knights won three blue ribbons in the Baby Green Jumper Division, open to horses in their first two years of jumping competition. 

She also won a Blue Medal in the Inland Empire Hunter Jumper Association mini-medal competition which is open to all Junior/Amateur riders who have not competed over fences higher than 2'3", and third place in the IEHJA Flat Medal competition for riders who have not competed over fences 2'6" and higher. 

“Havana was pretty challenging when he came to our barn, but he’s come a long way,” says Blakely. “This show was a test to see what height he could do. It was a big confidence booster for both of us.”

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