Mount Si senior Barden turns her love of equestrian sports, success in it into a college opportunity

The recent signing day ceremonies for Mount Si High School senior athletes had their share of athletes from major sports signing with colleges to play at the next level. One of those seniors, though, made a little history with her signing.

Mount Si High School senior Tova Barden, pictured here on her horse competing in an equestrian meet in Oklahoma, has signed with New Mexico State University to compete in that sport at the college level this coming fall. (Courtesy photo)

Mount Si High School senior Tova Barden, pictured here on her horse competing in an equestrian meet in Oklahoma, has signed with New Mexico State University to compete in that sport at the college level this coming fall. (Courtesy photo)

The Wildcats have had their share of senior athletes who don’t play those major sports, such as football, baseball and basketball, sign scholarships over the years. Mount Si has had golfers (Katie Somers, Jack Kelly), rowers (Chelsie and Tara Eddings, Shelby Sellers, others), and gymnasts (Cami Guyer) sign, but until this year, as far as we know, had never had a student-athlete sign a scholarship to compete in equestrian sports involving horses. Well, that’s all changed.

Tova Barden recently signed with NCAA Division I New Mexico State University to become a part of their equestrian team. Barden is thrilled with her choice. “It just was a really nice school and I like the South,” she said. Another factor that played into the decision, according to both her and her mom, Siri, is that NMSU, located in Las Cruces, NM, and whose primary sports are all part of the Western Athletic Conference, has an on-campus equestrian facility. The school that the Aggies beat out, Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, has their equestrian facility off-campus.

Siri noted that her daughter put all the work in with respect to the recruiting process. “She put all her videos together, she sent all of her emails out to the coaches,” Siri said.

The Barden’s have been involved with horse-related activities for many years, with Tova taking up the sport at a young age. She trains with Graham-based trainer Dean McCann and has been doing that for her entire career, a career which started several years ago. Having the stability that comes from working with just one trainer during your entire career has its advantages. “It’s really nice. I know him really well, so we kind of goof around sometimes and its just a fun environment,” Tova said.

She has achieved tremendous success in the sport, most notably making the finals of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association’s championship in 2014 in the working cowhorse discipline. So what is working cowhorse? “Working cowhorse is where you’re on your horse and you have a cow in the arena and you basically just have to control it and do a certain pattern,” Tova said.

The discipline that Tova will be competing in at NMSU is called reining, and she also has had success there, qualifying at the 2014 AQHYA worlds in that discipline as well. So what is reining? “Reining is when you ride your horse and so you have a certain pattern that you have to memorize and it varies every time you ride and you basically just perform seven or eight maneuvers continuously and then you’re scored on that,” Tova said. Siri added, “In the reining it’s basically showing different maneuvers,” with those maneuvers focusing on such things as the horse’s speed, their ability to stop and change direction, etc. According to both of them, the routines are judged, with anywhere from one-two judges at the regional level to eight up at the world meets. Scoring, according to Tova, ranges from around 60-80 points per routine, with 70 being an optimal score.

To become successful, Tova has had to put a lot of work in. “It’s year-round. My horse is currently in training, so she’s ridden six days a week, no matter what. She has Mondays off,” she said, adding she tries to get down to Graham twice a week for practice and training. “I ride her and I get lessons from my trainer and we don’t practice the whole thing, we separate it out when we practice.” The reason they try to do things piecemeal as opposed to an entire routine in one practice is for the health and safety of the horse. “You want them to be successful, you can’t work them too hard,” she said.

With her growing success, she has become more actively involved in the sport. She currently serves as the vice president of the Northwest Reined Cowhorse Youth Association, a group run by Siri and which is based in Fall City, where the family lives. “The Northwest Reined club includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Canada, basically British Columbia. So we have a pretty strong youth group,” Siri said. The group averages around 20-30 members from around the region, but Tova noted, “It’s really big right now for our area.” The group is affiliated with the Northwest Reined Cowhorse association, based in Auburn and is the regional branch of the national organization of the same name.

A couple of other Mount Si students – Tova’s younger brother Zeke and his fellow junior classmate Blake Bostwick – also have been involved in the sport locally, but according to the Barden’s, it is a challenge to attract more local families into the sport. Expense is a big, big factor. “That’s kind of hard (to attract more kids) because it is pretty expensive and it’s not easy to do,” Tova said.

What’s involved in setting up a successful equestrian enterprise? According to Siri, a lot. “You’re going to have to purchase a horse, and the horse Tova has is a very specialized athlete,” she said. “That’s going to be your biggest expense.” Siri continued, “Now if you’re keeping your horses at home, you can afford hay and pasture (and) you’ve got your own work horse, it’s going to be a lot less expensive versus if you have to keep your horse boarded out in a local boarding facility.” Further, she added, “On top of that you have to realize that we travel all over,” and that means a truck and horse trailer as well. Total cost is likely well into the tens of thousands of dollars when all is said and done, more likely six figures. So for local families, involving themselves in the sport needs to be looked at as a significant investment, not just financially, but in time as well.

The Barden’s have an active schedule of competitions that takes them all over the region, with such places as Lynden, Pasco and Oregon at the regional level and Texas, Nevada, California and Oklahoma at the national and world level. Many of these weekend events require a five-day commitment (Thursday-Monday) and with the travel all being by road, the trips can be quite long in some cases. But there’s great rewards in it, according to Siri. “Getting involved in it has been a great activity for our family Certainly taught them a lot of life lessons,” she said. “It’s also taught them a lot of responsibility.”

Said Tova, “I really love it. It’s all I do every weekend I’ve gotten great friends from it.”

Equestrian at the college level is a fall and winter sport, with most of the activity occurring in the fall months. The season for NMSU is still ongoing, however, with the Aggies set to meet West Texas A&M this coming weekend before wrapping up the 2015-16 season March 5 at home against Georgia. The league championships are March 25 and 26 and the school competes in the United Equestrian Conference for that sport.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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