First-year equine student turns amateur passion into national honors


Photo credit: Louise Taylor/USHJA Archives

Home-schooled, first-year transfer student Kiersten Pratt came to Lake Erie College from Arlington, Ill. Now, her talent and tenacity are fetching major honors: gold medals at the United States Hunter Jumper Association Horsemanship Quiz Challenge (HQC) Nationals and at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the largest single-breed horse show in the world.

This year, her Illinois State 4-H Horse Bowl team won first place at Congress in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 17 and again at the Eastern National 4-H Roundup Horse Bowl championship in Louisville, Kentucky on November 3-5. Pratt placed 10th as an individual in each competition.

Her growing list of awards and honors is remarkable for someone who admits to having had trouble speaking to people, let alone taking the lead as team captain in Horse Bowl quiz competition. The educational facet of quiz enticed her to join.

“It really gave me the foundation to do well here,” she said. “Before, I could hardly talk to anyone and had no confidence. Public speaking and Horse Bowl, where the team captain must answer bonuses and question judges’ determinations, opened me up. I’m competitive, so I like getting the point for my teammates because they deserve it.”

At the 2015 Congress, she nabbed first place in the formal speech Communications Contest for “Scat: What About That?” and for individual high point in the Horse Bowl, second team overall. That year, she was named Illinois Horse Fair Princess. After a team scores first at nationals, its members can’t compete again. This year’s Congress was her third and last.

She scarcely imagined continuing her equine education in a collegiate program, but majors in equine teacher trainer and communication are utilizing her gifts at LEC.

Having ridden since the age of 12, Pratt cross-trained and specialized in English hunter jumper and dressage with a private instructor and in Pony Club, an international youth organization.

College, she thought, would be an expensive investment for a person who just wanted to train horses, but her mother discovered that she wouldn’t have to sacrifice at Lake Erie College.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents. Before I could drive, they drove me to lessons an hour away,” Pratt said. They traveled seven hours to support her at this year’s HQC held in LEC’s George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center.

She would have selected a major like biology, but she knew she didn’t want to teach or work in a lab. Here, Pratt rides on the dressage and hunter-jumper teams and plans to board her own horse, Radish, at LEC’s stables in the spring.

“My impression of LEC is that there is a certain competitiveness, but we all want each other to win. We support one another. You can find help if you need it,” she said. “It’s a good bunch of students.”

At the 2016 HQC, also hosted by LEC, she knew by the end of the weekend, after witnessing impressive horse care, facilities and instructors, that she had found her fit. A scholarship she won eased that decision.

“It feels like home,” she said. “I was only homesick for about 3 days.”

Her riding instructor, Assistant Professor of Equine Studies Mary Pardee, mapped out steps for a future in the industry, leading Pratt to trust in her own potential for longevity as a trainer. In addition, she could relate to Pardee’s passion for an academic approach to riding.

Pratt studied for three hours a day—on top of her coursework—to prepare for Congress. Her strengths lie in knowledge of anatomy and physiology, which she gained from participating in 4-H and Pony Club.

“People think it’s too intense,” she said, but she has won a few friends over to the idea.

She “definitely” advises other aspiring equine students to partake in horse bowl competition, she said. For her stellar performance at the HQC, she won an internship for summer 2018 at Spy Coast Farm in Lexington, Ky.

For more information about the School of Equine Studies and its accomplished students, contact Dr. Pamela Hess at or 440-375-8005.

Photo credit: Louise Taylor/USHJA Archives

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