The Feuker sisters returned to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship Association show for another shot at showing off their talents in a sport that most aren't too familiar with. Hannah and Katie Feuker, Elmwood's equestrian duo, finished third at the state show after winning the District 5 championship in Eau Claire.
The Feukers are Elmwood High School's lone equestrian participants, and they've done a top-notch job of representing their school statewide throughout their riding careers. Their trip to the WIHA state show Oct. 27-29 was the Feukers' third career appearance at the Alliant Energy Center Way show in Madison.
"You can't just be someone who says, 'I like to ride horses from time to time,' which is great, but there's a skillset that you have to have," Kristel Flesberg, the equestrian team's staff volunteer, said about competing at the WIHA level. "[The Feukers] show in eight or nine different classes at a competition, and that's like going to a track meet and competing in eight or nine different events."
Flesberg said it's very seldom that you find kids who not only have the wide variety of equestrian skills that the Feukers have, but who also own their own capable horses, which is why equestrian is not a popular sport in Elmwood.
"The more people you have, the less you do at shows," Katie said. "But honestly, I kind of like having a smaller team, because you get to do a lot."
The Feuker sisters' third-place finish was a mere four points short of first place, and was a large improvement from their prior trips to WIHA state.
"The first year at state was a complete shock," Hannah said. "We didn't really know what we were getting into, but each year it gets better and better."
Hannah explained that equestrian isn't like the other sports the Feukers play where they're able to scout out their competition before they play against them.
"You don't know who you're riding against," Hannah said. "You get there and you have no idea what your competition is going to look like."
This twist in equestrian may throw some riders off, but Hannah and Katie try to just focus on their own performances in order to maintain their riding success.
"We just try to do the best that we can with the horses and compete to the best of our abilities," Hannah said. "That's always the goal."
Hannah and Katie said that they've always been riding, but that they don't have many opportunities to show their horses, so they jump on any chance they get to show off their equestrian skills.
"We've always been looking for more opportunities to be competitive," Katie said.
"It's more of a time issue, because we're involved in other things," Hannah explained.
Both of the girls are three-sport athletes at Elmwood, so it's often difficult to find extra time for competing with their already packed schedules.
"Weekdays are sports practice, weekends are horse practice," Hannah said.
The girls now have a break in between Elmwood's volleyball and basketball seasons, and said they use this time off to practice equestrian as much as they can. Their practices are led by their mom, Andrea Feuker, who is also their head equestrian coach. The girls practice at Mark and Dianna Alfuth's facility, and they said they wouldn't be successful if it weren't for their mom and the Alfuths.
The school equestrian season was completed with the WIHA state show, but the Feukers ride throughout the year to keep their equestrian skills fresh.
Not only do the sisters have to be proficient in their skills themselves, but a large part of their training is dedicated to improving their horses' own talents.
"We're just trying to polish their skills," Katie said. "Right now we're not really teaching them anything new, but finding out how we can get them to improve."
The equestrian athletes rely on building relationships with their horses in order to be a successful team, much like they do with teammates in any sport they play.
"All horses are different, so you have to work differently with each horse," Hannah said.
"You have to adjust to [horses] and what they need," Katie said, "because if you don't get along, it doesn't go well."
Unlike the other sports they in which they participate, the Feukers perform in front of one judge who determines their outcome.
"It can be stressful because there can be a lot of anxiety building up before going into the arena, and that can affect the horse that you're riding," Katie said. "You just really have to know what you're doing."
"There are not many sports where you go out and do something and they give you a score based on how pretty you looked," Hannah said.
The Feukers compared equestrian to dance by the lack of chances to fix mistakes both sports present. "You get one chance, and if you mess up you don't get to go back out there and fix it."
"If your horse just isn't feeling it that day, there's no one else to put in," Katie said. "You don't have any substitutes."
Katie said many people who aren't familiar with equestrian have the misconception that the horses do all of the work.
"People see that we're just sitting on top of the horses, but we still have to tell the horses exactly what to do and keep them calm," Katie said. "It's a lot to do, and sometimes it can be physically strenuous."
Hannah said that the difficulties of the sport are outweighed by how great it feels to succeed. "It's really rewarding when you do do well," she said. "I've pretty much taught my horse everything he knows, so when he does well I'm like, 'Okay, I taught him how to do that. I worked with him to get him to that point.'"
"Putting all of that work into [equestrian] and knowing that it was worth something and made a difference is really satisfying," Katie added.
Hannah will graduate in the spring, and although the Feuker sister duo will no longer be able to compete for Elmwood in the WIHA, the senior plans on riding for the rest of her life.
"It's different from other sports where you have to turn in your jersey at the end of the season, but I get to keep my horse," Hannah said.
Katie said that the two will continue to compete in non-school-affiliated shows after Hannah's graduation. "It's not the end."