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Elmwood's Feuker embraces demands of equestrian riding

Katie Feuker and her horse Nilla returned home with a third-place finish after competing at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship state show Nov. 2-4. Photo courtesy of Kristel Flesberg

Katie Feuker got used to participating in multiple events at track and field meets last spring. The multi-skilled athlete found little rest time while rushing from the long and triple jump pits to the marshalling areas for her 100-, 200-, 400- or 800-meter races during her sophomore track season, but an average track meet seems relaxing compared to one of Feuker's equestrian shows.

The Elmwood junior has participated in multiple equestrian competitions this year, and recently claimed a third-place finish at the Nov. 2-4 Wisconsin Interscholastic Horsemanship state show where she competed in 16 different events.

Last season, Feuker was joined by her sister Hannah and their duo was able to split the load of events. Feuker welcomed her larger, solo role this season.

"There are 18 events at each show, but I'm only allowed to do 16," Feuker explained.

Only.

"It's a lot of fun," Feuker said. "I definitely don't get to enjoy the social aspect of showing anymore. I'm there to show and get the classes done."

After an event, Feuker rushes off the course, hands her horse over to a member of what she calls her pit crew, quickly changes into one of her pristine uniforms and switches saddles all while trying to get herself and her horse, Nilla, mentally prepared for their next challenge.

"It's just constant chaos," Feuker said. "It's hard because there are a fewer amount of people showing in general this year, so I have to get ready even quicker. There's not really much time to sit around and talk to friends. It's just go go go."

The state show, which was held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, spanned over three days, but at "regular season" shows, Feuker and her opponents are forced to fit all of their events into one day. Feuker typically leaves her home at 6 a.m. to have enough preparation time for an 8 a.m. show, and often won't leave a competition until dark, but the lack of down time doesn't hold her back.

"I guess you just keep pushing," Feuker said. "It's adrenaline, I guess. You don't really feel how tired you've gotten until you sit down and take a break. Once the show is done, you can't just go and sit on the couch. You have to take your animals home. You have to feed them, because they're hungry and grumpy, too."

Feuker said that she often has to deal with a moody Nilla, but her realized similarities to her 4-year-old horse help her ease through their relationship with patience.

"She doesn't think that she should be told what to do," Feuker said while pointing out the photo of Nilla taped to her school locker. "In a lot of ways, she's like me, and sometimes I have to remember to be patient with her because she is young. It's a learning experience for both of us."

Feuker and Nilla's partnership began in January of 2018. Since then, Feuker has spent countless hours training her young horse and even brought her to Wyoming over the summer for extensive practices.

In the fall, an average weekday for Feuker would start with eight hours of school followed by volleyball practice and wouldn't end until she returned home from Mark and Diana Alfuth's Painted Hollow Farm where she and Nilla would train until dark.

Feuker said managing her schedule hasn't been difficult thanks to her supporting cast.

"My parents are awesome and are always hauling me around," Feuker said. "I couldn't do any of this without Mark and Diana, too. They allow me to use their facilities and are always supporting me at my shows. If it was just me by myself trying to do it, there's no way that I could do any of this."

Feuker's joy for ending her days at the farm with her horses also helps her get through her long days. "The horses are just a way for me to take a break," Feuker said. "It sounds like I put a lot of work in, but it really isn't work because they're just so much fun."

Feuker hopes to one day continue to ride horses after her high school graduation just like Hannah who currently competes on UW-Eau Claire's equestrian team, but isn't too worried about the future of her riding career just yet.

"I don't know what college will bring," Feuker said. "I'd hope to be able to do something like Hannah's doing, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

For now she's content with continuing to add to her collection of medals while putting Elmwood on the map thanks to her WIHA success and embracement of her demanding sport.

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