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Cara Wehmhoefer
Special Correspondent

Sophomore Paula Riviera is not your average high school athlete. Almost every day of the week, she spends a good amount of time practicing her sport, but not with a ball, hockey stick or bat. Instead Riviera’s sport takes place on the back of a horse she’s never ridden before. The event she competes in focuses on  the rider’s abilities to work with an unfamiliar horse and perform certain maneuvers in a ring while being evaluated by high-ranking judges.

This sport, called IEA (based on the name of the association, the Interscholastic Equestrian Association) is not like ordinary riding competitions. Riders only bring themselves and their teams. They don’t bring their own horses. They ride horses provided by the organization, which is much more challenging than riding a horse they have practiced on regularly.

An avid rider for 8 ½ years, Riviera rides at Rising Star Equestrian Center in Medway with  their IEA team. Her trainer is owner and operator Kathy Haas Ogonowski.

“[IEA] has enhanced the camaraderie at the barn.  We have many riders that cannot afford their own horse who want to compete and the IEA gives these riders [a chance] to set and achieve their personal riding goals,” said Ogonowski, in an email interview.

Riviera’s show season this past year was extremely successful. During the regular season she earned 1st place in every class, and racked up a total of 27 overall points. She then moved on to regionals, where she placed 2nd, which qualified her for IEA nationals, in Syracuse, New York.

“She was very confident in her ride and it showed,” said Ogonowski of her ride at Regionals.

Riviera moved on to Nationals, but unfortunately did not place. However, she said “Just riding [in Nationals] was a good experience.”

Riviera explained that being this competitive in riding can be extremely strenuous and time-consuming.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “One day I’ll be riding at 7 in the morning and then at 8 at night.”

Riviera’s intense riding schedule and lessons do pay off, according to Ogonowski.

“Paula has an inner confidence and understanding about the way horses think, that allows her to take what she is learning and apply it in her riding quickly,” she said. “This makes her a versatile rider and helps a lot with the IEA because you never know which horse you will be riding at any given horse show.”

As Riviera is only a sophomore, she still has several years of riding and competing to look forward to.

“Paula is genuine, hard working and enjoys the process of learning. Even when things don’t go her way, she remains upbeat and positive,” said Ogonowski. “She is successful because she uses these attributes to develop her innate abilities as a rider.”

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