Not just horsing around
– Southgate Star
Southgate Anderson High School might seem an unlikely place for an equestrian team, until you realize one team member is all you need to start one.
So in 2003 when Ashley Clapp asked her mother, Kimberly Clapp, if she could represent the school in Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association meets, mom made it happen. Anderson athletic director Dave Pinkowski agreed, saying he would be happy to support an equestrian team and agreed it could be a varsity sport. Ashley participated in 2003 as a junior and 2004 as a senior.
It was a case of the apple not falling too far from the tree; Ashley had been riding since age 9.
“She asked if she could start taking riding lessons” Kimberly said. “I guess all the stories I had about my horse-riding years sparked an interest. She took lessons and not long after we bought her a horse.”
Kimberly, who grew up in a not-very-rural portion of Flat Rock, has been a Wayne County 4H Leader for 20 years and the Southgate Anderson equestrian team coach since 2003. She also has served on the MIHA board for three years.
“My love for horses began when I was somewhere around 9 years old,” Kimberly said. “I’m not really sure how I became obsessed with horses, but I knew I wanted to ride them. I begged my parents enough that they finally let me take riding lessons. I was hooked from then on.”
Kimberly’s dad told her she could have a horse of my own after she learned how to take care of one.
“I would go to the barn every day after school and clean stalls and brush horses,” she said. “My dad finally let me get a horse.”
Because she lived in a subdivision in Flat Rock, there was no way they could keep a horse at their house, so they found a boarding facility nearby. Kimberly joined 4H and participated at the Wayne County Fair in Belleville for a few years. After some time passed and she had a family of my own with her husband, Tom, and moved to Southgate, horses were no longer a priority in her life anymore.
When Ashley began riding at age 9 (sound familiar?), they had to board her horse. During this time she was also in 4H and rode at the Wayne County Fair just as her mom had.
Most of Ashley’s “horse” friends were competing at the MIHA meets in the fall of 2003, so she asked her mom to find out how she could represent Southgate Anderson in those meets.
Fast forward a few years and Kate Clapp, Kimberly’s youngest daughter, who also started her riding career in 4H, reached the ninth grade in 2008 asked if she could represent her school at the MIHA Meets. She rode as a one-person team her freshman year. As Kate was starting her sophomore year, Southgate Anderson senior Chelsea Owen asked Kimberly about riding, so in 2009 both girls rode.
Kate was on her own again during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Now 25, she recently competed at the All American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus (the largest all-breed horse show in world) in the Queens contest.
Gabbriella Cowan was 9 or 10 when she met Kimberly at a barn where the Clapps were boarding their horse.
“I joked that she was going to be my next Southgate Anderson equestrian team,” Kimberly said, “and that she was.”
Cowan came to her has a freshman in 2016 and wanted to ride for Southgate Anderson, so Kimberly contacted Pinkowski again and he happily let Cowan represent her school at the MIHA meets.
Now a senior, Cowan competed at three district meets in September in the D Division (teams with one or two riders) and won the championship title, clinching a spot in the regional competition. She then won the reserve championship title, earning a spot at the MIHA state championships held Oct. 12 and 13 weekend in Midland.
Cowan was invited to escort the Southgate Anderson football team onto the field at its last football game of the season Friday, Oct, 18. She has won four division titles and one regional title in her high school career.
Over the years, the Southgate Anderson equestrian team has won eight district titles, five regional titles and one reserve state title in 2011.
As Kimberly has become more involved in running the MIHA meets, assistant coach Alena Foster has donned the green boots the last few years. All told, there were about 900 middle school riders in the state last spring and 1,250 high school riders this fall.
Other Downriver communities with high school equestrian teams include Grosse Ile, Trenton, Woodhaven, Flat Rock and Allen Park. Kimberly said MIHA provides a friendly, competitive atmosphere amongst all the participating schools.
“Horses encourage responsibility and allow children to build a relationship with an animal that involves trust and respect, Kimberly said. “Kids learn responsibility. “It’s a lot of hard work, but they’re very heartwarming animals.
“What I really like about it is all the people and friends you meet. You root for one another. We have a great time and we cheer other riders on. When you have a horse kid, they know all the other horse kids.”
Kimberly said she’s unaware of any other up-and-coming riders in Southgate, but plans to continue volunteering at 4H, and coaching at Southgate Anderson for as long as kids are interested.
“It’s not a sport that just anybody can do,” Kimberly said. “You don’t just walk on. You need a horse, you need to know how to ride it, the right things to do and the transportation to get it there.”