With a steady gait and lots of horsepower, the University of Nebraska Western Equestrian Team won the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Western Semifinals overall team championship and are bound for the IHSA National Championship Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 5-8.
The Huskers won with a score of 41, competing against schools qualified from 400 member colleges and nearly 10,000 riders, during the March 19-20 semifinals in Lubbock, Texas. It was the Huskers’ 12th consecutive showing at semifinals.
“I’m so proud of this team, and I’ve been very humbled and blessed to have been able to coach the team for the past 12 years,” said Lori Jaixen, the team’s coach and a lecturer in the Department of Animal Science. “I believe that this is part of the culture that teams from the past have brought up and cultivated, as well. Through hard work, perseverance trust and determination — that’s what made this group super special.”
The Husker triumph comes after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
“Everybody was just super excited and so grateful to be back,” Jaixen said. “Honestly, I feel like everybody was cheering for everybody. It was just a phenomenal experience.”
With such a lapse in competitions, this year was bittersweet for Jaixen as she was able to give her riders the opportunity to compete, and even watch them cheer on their competitors. Of the nine Husker equestrian team members riding, only senior Megan Pokorny had been to the western semifinals before, a rare occurrence when competing at the collegiate level. From each semifinal, only the top four individuals per division and top three teams advance to nationals.
Pokorny, an animal science major with a pre-vet option from La Vista, has spent all four years on the team. COVID-19 shut down preparations for the postseason her sophomore year, but she remained dedicated to the sport.
Jaixen said trust has been a theme this year. She has asked each rider to step up and prepare for semifinals by trusting in their training and giving it their all. Veteran rider Pokorny set an example and played a pivotal leadership role as part of getting Nebraska back to the national championship again, Jaixen said.
“She is a very fierce and determined competitor,” Jaixen said.
Competing at nationals will be Pokorny’s last hurrah on the Husker equestrian team. She said success take consistent practice every day in the barn, and making mistakes but learning from them.
After graduation, she is looking froward to starting veterinary school at Nebraska in hopes of becoming an equine or small animal vet.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years on the team and made many friends along the way,” she said. “I’m going to miss the team, for sure.
“I think Lori has definitely made me a better rider over these past four years, even though I ride every day at home. There’s just something about her that she knows how to make you a better rider no matter what level you are, and I think I’m really going to miss that.”
Pokorny and five other equestrian team members will compete in the national championship.
Nebraska’s semifinal results:
Team class: semifinal champions
- Reining: First, Sarah Eberspacher
- Ranch Riding: First, Megan Pokorny
- Open Horsemanship: First, Sarah Eberspacher
- Level II Horsemanship: Second, Megan Pokorny
- Level I Horsemanship: First, Emily Burnside
- Rookie Horsemanship: Fourth, Emily Jonas
- Beginner Horsemanship: Second, Hadley Olson
Individual class — top four riders advance to nationals to compete in individual classes:
- Reining: Fourth, Sarah Eberspacher
- Open Horsemanship: Third, Sarah Eberspacher
- Level II Horsemanship: Semifinal qualifier, Taylor Dynek
- Level I Horsemanship: Semifinal champion, Megan Pokorny
- Rookie Horsemanship: Seventh, Cassidy Chase
- Beginner Horsemanship: Second, Semifinal Reserve Champion, Ashley Blakely; Semifinal Qualifier – Taylor Pivonka