Having already proven herself in prestigious competition, Enumclaw’s Stephanie Helsen will take her equestrian abilities to the campus of Oklahoma State University.
The 18 year old, who will finish her public schooling as a Running Start student, chose the Cowboys over three other formal suitors. She will head to Stillwater, Okla., in mid-August and join the highly-respected OSU Cowboy program.
Helsen, who has been riding as long as she can recall and competing since her early grade-school days, realized as a teenager that her talents astride a horse could lead to a college education. She heard from other competitors about postsecondary opportunities, then took the initiative.
After crafting a resumé outlining her achievements, Helsen emailed approximately 15 equestrian programs across the country. That meant leaving home, as the Pacific Northwest is not exactly a hotbed for top-notch collegiate competition.
Helsen eventually heard from four programs, each offering all-expense-paid recruiting trips to campus. She visited Baylor University, the University of Georgia and Texas Christian University, along with Oklahoma State. After narrowing the list to Baylor and OSU, she chose the Cowboys.
The final decision, she said, came for reasons both practical and emotional. First, Oklahoma State came up with a much better scholarship offer, covering the cost of both tuition and books. Beyond that, “it just felt right,” Helsen said, explaining that she hit it off with current members of the Cowboy team and was attracted to OSU’s “beautiful” campus.
Helsen admits her sport of choice is a bit of a mystery to many, despite its growth in the world of intercollegiate athletics.
“Not a lot of people really know a whole lot about it,” she said, even though equestrian athletes get recruited from all parts of the country.
Helsen will head to Stillwater with impressive credentials. She was a 2015 Reserve World Champion in Working Cow Horse at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Show. Additionally, she boasts three High Point Youth Bridle Champion wins at the Northwest Reined Cow Horse Association and also placed sixth at the AQHYA World Show in Working Cow Horse.
Helsen is one of seven freshmen girls set to join the Oklahoma State team, headed by an obviously-pleased coach Larry Sanchez.
“They are extremely talented in the riding arena and also have the attitude, work ethic and personality that would make any coach proud,” Sanchez said in a press release. “I am very excited about the future of our program with the addition of this talented group of young ladies.”
Sanchez has headed the OSU program for 18 seasons and has built a tradition of success. His Cowboy teams have won the Big 12 championship four times in the past five seasons. The Oklahoma State team climbed to No. 5 in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Team Rankings released earlier this season. Since 2000, Oklahoma State has claimed four national championships.
Collegiate teams split their season into two parts and OSU finished 4-1 during the fall. The Cowboys will resume competition in February.
While collegiate equestrian competition might be something of a mystery in the Northwest, it enjoys growing popularity in other parts of the country. It is a full-fledged intercollegiate sport at OSU.
The NCAA declared equestrian as an “emerging sport” in 1998 and the number of programs has grown each year.
When teams gather for dual-meet competition, there are four events: hunter seat equitation over fences, hunter seat equitation on the flat, Western horsemanship and reining. An equal number of riders from each team compete head-to-head in each event on the same set of horses.
At OSU, Helsen will compete in reining. The event has competitors in a rectangular arena, taking horses through a pre-established, precise pattern that can involve spins, circles and stops. To this point, she has competed in Working Cow Horse, which involves many of the same riding skills, but has riders maneuvering a cow through the arena in precise patterns.