The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Since 2002, the mission has been to teach public and private school students in grades 6-12 about competitive horse riding.

After starting with just 250 participants in its inaugural season, the IEA now boasts more than 12,000 members in 42 states, including the newest right here on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The Fairhope Equestrian Center will serve as the host barn for the new riding program. So far, there are 11 girls from Mobile and Baldwin counties on the roster.

“They have been practicing three days a week since June,” said Karen Moss, who helped to establish the team. “The first competition will be in Tallahassee in October and then in Ocala [Florida] in December. We have put in bids for other shows, but we have not heard back.”

Moss said putting a team together is something she has wanted to do for quite some time.

“When I talked to Vivian and Carl Smith, they told me they were willing for us to use their Fairhope Equestrian Center for practices, and to lend us horses and the tack,” Moss said. “We could have never done it without them.”

(Photo | Courtesy of Karen Moss) Front row, from left: Mary Kathryn Sternenberg and Frances Hollis. Second row: Sydney Prince, Kyla Barton, Perri Gandy, Kendyl Stroud and Mary Katherine Northcutt. Top row: Camille Bailey, Lilly Stewart, Jewel Brewer and Chandler Hopper.

(Photo | Courtesy of Karen Moss) Front row, from left: Mary Kathryn Sternenberg and Frances Hollis. Second row: Sydney Prince, Kyla Barton, Perri Gandy, Kendyl Stroud and Mary Katherine Northcutt. Top row: Camille Bailey, Lilly Stewart, Jewel Brewer and Chandler Hopper.

The Fairhope team is the first IEA squad on the Alabama or Mississippi Gulf Coast. While there are teams in the Montgomery and Birmingham areas, the closest squads are found in the Florida Panhandle communities of Pace and Milton. The Zone 4 region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The IEA oversees two styles of riding. While some teams select Western riding, the Fairhope squad specializes in the Hunt Seat format. This “forward seat riding” is based on the tradition of English fox hunting.

The competition judges both a horse’s movement and form, as well as “equitation” scoring, which reviews a rider’s ability both in flat and over fences classes.

While some of the Fairhope riders have their own private horses, it does not matter to the team. The FEC supplies all the horses for the practices.

“We will compete against teams in the Southeast on a point system,” Moss said. “Our girls will go to a show and a computer draw will match them to a horse that they have never ridden. They will even use the tack from someone else.

“This evens out the competition, but it is very challenging. The competition is all about the rider. The horse can be acting up, but you have to follow form.”

The IEA is divided into four ability levels: beginner, novice, intermediate and open. Grades 6-8 are on the middle school teams, while grades 9-12 compete at the high school level. A rider not able to pay the registration fees may qualify for financial assistance through the IEA Benevolent Fund.

The competition season began Sept. 1 and will conclude with the nationals in Lexington, Kentucky, April 21-23. Points are tracked for individual and team results.

“We have to attend five shows by February to get enough points,” Moss said. “If we can get enough, you go to the regional and then the zone and then the nationals.”

The shows are organized much like intercollegiate equestrian competitions. Auburn University sponsors such a team. Moss said the program provides the riders with opportunities for athletic scholarships.

Members of the inaugural team are Camille Bailey, Kyla Barton, Jewel Brewer, Perri Gandy, Frances Hollis, Chandler Hopper, Mary Katherine Northcutt, Sydney Prince, Mary Kathryn Sternenberg, Lilly Stewart and Kendyl Stroud. They come from Mobile, Daphne, Spanish Fort, Fairhope and Gulf Shores. Trainer Linda Moody is teaching the squad the proper form at the barn, located south of Fairhope on Sherwood Highland Road.

“Many have no idea how challenging riding horses can be,” Moss said. “It is a sport that requires total body control and a huge dose of confidence to manage a 1,000-pound animal.

“These special girls are dedicated to this sport. Riding on this team is requiring them to be responsible young ladies with a work ethic like none other. They worked all summer at early morning practices and into the heat of the day.”

To learn more about the team, call Moss at 251-422-8799 or the FEC at 251-422-8799. More information on the sport is available at

College briefs
● The University of South Alabama football game Saturday against Nicholls State at Ladd-Peebles Stadium kicks off at 6 p.m.; it will be broadcast on ESPN3.

● USA’s Alexandria Stiteler is ranked No. 72 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division I women’s national singles rankings. The sophomore, who went 28-7 last year, is the only Sun Belt Conference player in the poll.

● Thanks to beating top-ranked Florida State, members of the USA women’s soccer team swept the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Week honors. Junior Ashlynn Jones got the offensive award while freshman Alexis Jordan was the top defender.

● Cecilia Duarte of the University of Mobile was named the Women’s Soccer Defensive POW in the Southern States Athletic Conference. The senior goalkeeper made 12 stops on the week, including seven to preserve a 2-2 tie in double-overtime with third-ranked Northwestern Ohio.

● Hayden Dees of UM was the NAIA Men’s soccer Defensive POW. The senior goalie from Fairhope had six saves in a shutout of No. 7 Columbia. Dees previously was the SSAC Defensive POW while teammate Newton Henry won the offensive award.

● Sophomore Randi De’Armitt of Spring Hill College has been named the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s Volleyball Offensive POW. The sophomore outside hitter helped the Badgers win five matches in league play with 23 kills, 23 digs and 11 aces. Madison Suezeneau (offensive), Anna Tietjens (setter) and Sarah Senft (newcomer) gained SIAC honors the previous week.

● UM seniors Hannah Buck was the SSAC Volleyball Attacker of the Week and Jessica Bagel the Defender of the Week. Buck had a career-high 21 kills in one win while Bagwell averaged 5.0 digs per set.

● The Spring Hill men’s and women’s cross-country teams swept first place in all three college divisions at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Cross Country Festival hosted by Loyola. Freshman Spencer Albright took first place out of 24 college division runners while junior Nicole Kotval won her second individual victory in two weeks.

● Sophomore Laura Labuschaigne of USA picked up her first career cross-country title during the Azalea City Classic held at The Grounds in Mobile, turning in a time of 21.44.56.