Hannah Agee holds the reins

The West Texas equestrian team is comprised of two disciplines: an English team that competes in equitation and jump events, and a Western team on which Agee is a reiner.

Reining is a form of Western riding, a pattern that consists of big, fast circles and small, slow circles and spins. You display a change in size and speed of the circles, said the nursing major, who was born in Lebanon and has lived the past 12 years on her family's farm in Norene, almost in the shadows of nearby Cedars of Lebanon State Park.

Agees event takes a scant 3 minutes to complete as she and her horse perform in an arena with an area marked by six cone boundaries. In this competition, each school provides horses, and the athletes draw for their mounts. Thus, they do not know which horse they will be riding. There are no warm-ups, and the riders dont even touch their mounts until competition begins.

In reining there are 10 basic patterns as prescribed by the Intecollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA).

Hannah Agee performs a sliding stop atop Bernie at the 2010 National Reining Horse Association Derby in Oklahoma City, Okla., while competing in the 14-18 division of the United States Equestrian Federation youth championship.

Each pattern has three circles, one small slow and two big fasts, and two sets of four spins, one in each direction, Agee said. There are stops, run downs and roll backs. Its all essentially the same, just in different order. You are judged solely on how well you can get the horse to complete the pattern and perform its job.

Western is a team sport, but competitors also score individual points. Placing first at a show earns 7 points. A rider needs 28 points to qualify for the regional horse show at the end of season. Agee won first place in Reining A in an October show.

"Hannah is a fantastic rider and a true asset to West Texas A&M University equestrian," said the team's head coach, Amanda Love-Ricketson. "This is Hannahs sophomore year at West Texas and her second year on the team. After a successful freshman year, she has had a strong start to her fall semester.

"In her freshman year, Hannah qualified for the region championship and placed third, missing the next qualifying round by just one spot. She has big goals for this year of making it all the way to the national championship, and she is more than capable. Not only is Hannah successful in the arena for the Lady Buffs, she is also a stellar student with a 3.9 grade point average," the coach said.

One of six reiners on the squad of 38 young women, Agee also is one of six members of the team hailing from east of the Mississippi River. She and her Western teammates compete in eight shows throughout the school year, not including regionals, semi-finals and nationals. The riders practice thrice a week on their horses as well as lift weights and run.

Our team is really close, she said. Some of the best friends Ive made in college are on the equestrian team. Its kind of like a sorority because there are so many girls, but we are united with a common goal: We want to do the best for our team.

Equestrian was classified as an NCAA emerging sport in 1998. Currently 23 colleges and universities offer equestrian as a varsity sport. Those include Auburn, the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina and the University of Tennessee in Martin.

Agee first sat in a saddle when she was 1 years old. At 6, her father gave her her first pony, Baloney, which she remembers as being "stubborn and a little hateful at times," as she began to do show riding.

Since her freshman year in high school, Hannah Agee has competed in reining on her quarter horse RC Sonita Slide On, which she nicknamed Bernie.

When I was in seventh grade, my sister, Whitney, a senior in high school, rode reining. That carried over to me when she went to college, and I started riding her reiner, Chrome Plated Sugar.

When my sister went to West Texas A&M and was on the equestrian team, I was able to travel with her team and saw her compete in Springfield, Mass., and Burbank, Calif.

(Whitney Agee, who qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association Youth World Show as a teenager, is currently studying veterinarian medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.)

Hannah began taking lessons in the seventh grade and competing in the eighth grade in events sponsored by the National Reining Horse Association. During the summers, she averages about 15 hours a week training and caring for her horse.

She said she started because, It was fun. It was something we all loved to do as a family. My freshman year, my dad bought me my horse, RC Sonita Slide On (she nicknamed the quarter horse Bernie).

Its not just you. Theres a horse to consider, said Agee, who wears boots, jeans, chaps, cowboy hat, belt and western shirt during events. Bloodlines matter. Look back at the sire and the dam to see if they came from great bloodlines.

Bernie, who was trained by Charlie Wills of Brush Creek, was built for reining Agee said, as her horse is a short, stocky and a muscular little mare. While in high school, the athlete studied under trainer Heather Johnson of Creekside Reining Horses in Ringgold, Ga.

Agee noted, In reining you have to be willing to ride with other people and to try new strategies when something doesnt work the first time. You have to be committed and want to get better.

Hannah and Whitneys mother, Norma Agee, who was not raised around horses but does some trail riding, has enjoyed watching her daughters compete in their sport.

Both of our girls wanted to go away to school, and we were excited for them to get that experience," Norma said. "I guess, what I have found most interesting is the camaraderie behind the competition, how they all (the members of all the college teams) get along pretty well.

But, unless youre flying, it is a long ride to Canyon, Texas. The 974-mile road trip takes about 15 hours to drive, according to Hannah, who made the commute over the holidays with Eli, her border collie.

The college horsewoman loves her sport but said that her education comes first. She aims to make the regional show this spring, but this may be her final season.

I enjoy being apart of West Texas's equestrian team, and I'm prepared for a tough semester with nursing school as well as being a member of a nationally recognized IHSA team," said the Lady Buff from Norene. "But I want to make the most of it, because I won't have this kind of opportunity open to me again."

by Ken Beck

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.