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Young equestrians compete at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center
Sarah Matl of the Huntcliff Equestrian Team jumps over a fence Saturday with horse Dallas during the Class 2I Varsity Intermediate fences over two feet event as part of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Region 3 competition at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville. Riders are judged on equitation, rider position and connection with the horse. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

Riders gathered Saturday at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center to compete in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association's Regional Finals.

The Region 3 meet included 14 middle and high school teams from Alpharetta, Smyrna and Canton. The competition includes both individual and team Hunt Seat riding. The teams had to qualify by gaining 20 points; individual riders had to gain 15.

Volunteers Lara Ratcliff and Lisle Waits each had daughters competing for a chance to move on to the next level. Ratcliff explained how riders draw horses' names from a hat. Riding an unfamiliar horse adds the competitive element, so riders are sometimes asked to switch horses to prove their skills.

"It's challenging. A lot of it is luck­- which horse you draw- and it's being able to manage your nerves," Ratcliff said.

Wait's daughter was one of the top six to enter the Varsity Open Championship, showcasing individual riders in jumping class and a flat class.

"It's very fun to watch. Both of our girls made it to Nationals last year in New York and it was so fun," Waits said.

The riders must navigate a course, leaping over hurdles placed around the track, Waits said. After the jumping, all six riders must demonstrate different riding patterns in both directions around the ring.

Varsity Open Championship winner Rebecca Hollman has been riding for 15 years. She did her first show at age 2.

This was her first year at an IEA competition.

"My favorite part of competitive riding is achieving the goals I set for myself," she said. Hollman will move on to the next phase of the competition with her team.

The IEA was established in 2002 to introduce middle and high school students to equestrian sports.

The competition will continue today with Zone 4, Region 1 Finals. The top two teams and individual riders from each class will compete again their Zones in South Carolina and could move on to Nationals in New York, if they qualify.