The Bucs qualified for the competition by finishing as one of the top two teams in their district and claimed the Region D title with 330 total points.
“These kids tend to have really good work ethics, I just can't say enough about how hard they work and the time that they devote to this,” said Grand Haven head coach JoAnn Kosanic. “Regular horse showing is a lot of ‘all about me’ sort of thing, but the MIHA gives it a different spin making it a true team sport. Our girls are very good at being a team and are committed to helping each other and I think that’s why we have stayed so successful.
“We’ve been to the state meet 10 out of the last 11 years, and the one year we didn’t make it we just had a lot of older horses and things kept popping up on us. It’s not fair to the horse to work if it’s sore or in pain.
“This year, we have a nice mix of horses and riders. We have some experienced riders on pretty green horses and some experienced horses with some of our younger riders, and that seems to work really well for us.”
The show itself was a bit of a roller coaster with Grand Haven jumping out to an early lead with a strong showing in the Showmanship classes to take a 36-point lead over Greenville.
The field was persistent, however, making a charge at the perennial champs in the Trail and Reining classes. By the end of Day 1, the Bucs had fallen to third place, 40 points behind Traverse City West and one point behind Gaylord.
“We almost always start strong because they start with the in-hand classes,” Kosanic said. “We usually get ahead in those and stay ahead. But, we don’t have any speed horses this year and it has been a long time since that was the case. When through the meet speed events come up, people jump ahead of us.
“I think it is good for the girls, it keeps them sharp. If you get ahead and stay ahead there isn’t as much incentive to shine. I liked this year; they were a little worried when they went to bed Saturday night. It was agony for them, but I was pretty confident because our equitation classes are really strong and it kept them motivated for Sunday.”
On Day 2, Grand Haven got off to another hot start, as expected, in the Hunt Seat Equitation and Western Horsemanship classes. The effort propelled them back into the lead, 77 points ahead of now second-place Mason County Eastern. By the meet’s conclusion, the Bucs held a 34-point lead over runner-up Gaylord.
Junior Paige Beland and her horse Boudreaux led the team with 97 points for the weekend, including a win in Bareback Western Horsemanship. Senior Sara Sokoly and her horse Mandy totaled 93 points with a class win in Saddle Seat Pattern and a double-win in Trail.
Senior Aslynne McKee and her horse Lacey followed with a 91-point showing, highlighted by a class win in Hunt Seat Fitting and Showing. Junior Hannah Smith and her horse Gunner took a second-judge win in Hunt Set Fitting and Showing to add a 44-point contribution.
Finally, freshman Ani Fett and her horse Posh had limited classes, but contributed points toward the Bucs win.
Kosanic chalks the win up to teamwork and cooperation.
“They are very supportive of one another, and that is very helpful,” she said. “A lot of people that don’t show don’t realize how much memorization goes into it. There are 17 patterns at every show and they have to know six or seven of them for a day. They help each other memorize them and repeat them to one another and are always very careful. If they don’t catch a mistake, then they could make it in the show. They are really committed to helping one another.”
The championship qualifies Grand Haven for the State Championship meet in Midland, running Oct. 11-14.
Another trip to the state finals means more patterns to memorize, which will consume most of the team’s practice time over the next week, while Kosanic focuses on building their championship lineup, all with the hope of taking home the programs’ third title.
“Of course, we want to win,” Kosanic said of their goals. “My job this week is to run the patterns with the kids and see which classes suit which horse and which rider the best. Just because someone has been going Hunt Seat Back the whole year, if the pattern isn’t good for them, then I will stick someone else in there.
“Some of the patterns have elements that some of the younger horses don’t have down like lots of pivoting and spinning.”
As for their main competition, that is up in the air, as traditional rivals Oxford and Ludington will compete in different divisions. The Bucs most recently took home the trophy in 2015 and won their first in 2012.