Graduating senior to ride away to national horsemanship meet

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Graduation weekend will find Bowling Green State University senior Tiffani Bennethum doing a quick change from her cap and gown into cowboy hat and boots. Thanks to her recent fourth-place finish in the semifinals of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition, she must leave Bowling Green immediately after commencement and head to Raleigh, N.C., for the national competition.

Bennethum, from Dalton, Ohio, is a member of BGSU’s club equestrian team in the Western discipline (the club also has English discipline riders). At the semi-finals, held at the University of Findlay, she qualified for nationals at the beginner level, besting 10 competitors from 10 other colleges and universities, some with well-funded varsity teams, such as the University of California, Davis; Stanford, Northern Kentucky University and the University of Massachusetts.

Maintaining the team and getting to the competitions is a challenge for the BGSU equestrians; the Western discipline has participated in nine meets this year. “It’s an expensive sport,” Bennethum said. “Ours is very much an underdog story.”

A math and computer science major with a specialization in business systems, Bennethum only began riding when she got a job in 2010 as a summer camp counselor and had to help teach kids to ride.

“I discovered I loved riding horses and was actually good at it. Two years later and here I am going to nationals. It’s crazy,” she said, noting that her parents, Charlie and Beth Bennethum, were somewhat flabbergasted by her win.

“Horses are so new in my life, so they’re only just getting used to that,” she said.

The summer camp experience probably was good preparation for the format of the Intercollegiate competitions, she said. “They had a herd of about 150 horses, so I was used to jumping on different horses every week.”

The barn, owned by Coach Sue Fisher, where the team’s 13 Western riders train also has about 10 horses, and members ride them all, with further coaching by Chris Hill.

In Western discipline meets, riders draw the name of a horse and have only a few seconds to get on and adjust their stirrups before going into the ring. At the beginner level, they ride around the outside rail and then guide the horse through a series of walks and trots in a pattern. As riders improve and amass points through placing first through sixth, they can move up to more advanced levels of competition.

“It’s all about how you control the horse and how you present yourself,” Bennethum said. “It’s very much a show. I have a shiny shirt and big earrings – the ‘blingier’ the better!”

Her mother will accompany her to North Carolina, and other team members hope to raise the funds to go as well.

In her academic life, Bennethum is president of the Women in Computing campus organization and the 2011 recipient of the Leland R. Miller Memorial Scholarship in the computer science department.

She will not be counseling campers this summer. Bennethum already has lassoed a job as an applications developer for the J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville, close to her hometown, and hopes to keep riding in her free time.

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(Posted April 30, 2012 )