By Sue Moore
Vicksburg’s equestrian team knew it had a good chance at capturing a state championship in 2019. It had trained hard to get ready for the competition, placing first in District and Regional events. At state it was just a few points shy of winning first place as the final event got underway with sisters Ally and Torie Barga running the speed relay.
Then disaster struck. At the turn, Torie’s horse tripped and fell on top of her. They were disqualified and all hopes seemed to be dashed.
Still, they had one more chance as each relay team can make two runs to establish their best time, approximately 10.6 seconds. Barga was taken to the medical center to check for concussion and broken bones. Her coach, Mike Fleetwood assured her that the team would be happy to go home with a second place so she wasn’t to worry about making a second run.
Although her shoulder and back hurt, the EMT’s determined there was no concussion suffered. Torie just sat up and put her helmet on and said, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to go. I’m good, so let me ride.” Speed riding like the Bargas do is scary but exhilarating, said Dawne Steele, another of the coaches. “They ride to the end of the arena, hand off the baton to the waiting rider who bolts for home.“
The team received 10 points, the most possible, for this final ride and the coveted first place finish it had worked on all year long.
It took all the other riders on the team to compete and build up the 241 total points needed to win. Freshman Makenzie Freund was the top equitation – the art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship – with 99 points. She scored in both Western and English saddle events. Senior Ally Barga earned 59 points, excelling in both saddle seat and speed classes. Torie Barga was the top speed rider with 58 points. Olivia Cannizzaro rose to the top in jumping fences with 25 points. They were assisted by Mykaila Scamazzo, the team groom who kept horses and girls ready to shine in each event, according to Steele.
Equestrian as a club sport began in 2009 in Vicksburg and accepted as a school sport in 2017. The coaches were Steele, Kaiti Fink, Fleetwood and his wife Karin. Throughout these years they have won nine District championships, two at the Regional level. At the state level they have placed 7th and 4th overall. “It’s each individual doing their thing but what they accomplish goes to a team score,” Steele said. It is all parent-funded with the school providing entry fees and horse stall expenses during the shows. Last time at state the cost was over $1,300 for the team to compete. The Boosters Club helps with expenses, as do local businesses as sponsors. H&H Farms, B&T Partnerships, Raise the Bar Horses, Jason Gatlin and Vicksburg Optometry all contributed funds in the race for the state title this year, Steele said.
“Each team member worked hard all summer with encouragement from their coaches, knowing how talented they were and that this might be the year they could win it all,” Steele said. With just four riders, the team was entered in the C Division for competition. The A division has 10 riders or more, B has 6-10 riders, C is 2 – 5 and D is 1 or 2. The top schools in the state were at the finals in Midland over four days.
“Each one of these girls were able to bring home at least one first place individually in their class. They each had highs and lows with nerves but they held together and fought until the end,” said Fleetwood.