BERLIN, Mass. - Last month, the equestrian team at Maplewood Farm in Berlin traveled to North Carolina to compete in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association's national competition.

What You Need To Know

  • Maplewood Farm in Berlin qualified for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association's national competition in Tryon, North Carolina

  • The upper school team from the farm finished in the top ten out of more than 1,400 teams

  • Coach Tamara Johnston said the sports has started to grow in popularity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The team was also able to visit colleges in the southern part of the country during their trip

"You know, the nerves start to rack up," team member Alana Deacon said of the experience. "But, you just get really really excited."

"I've done IA for a while and I never made it to nationals," said Ella Tamilio, another member of the team. "It was awesome being able to go with the team and all my friends."

The upper school team from the farm brought home impressive ribbons, finishing in the top ten out of more than 1,400 teams. In their trip to Tryon, North Carolina, they competed against the top 18 riders from across the country in each class.

"You're competing against the top riders in the country," said Deacon. "So the competition itself, who you're riding amongst, is very difficult to place and do well."

For coach Tamara Johnston, it was her first time having an entire team from Maplewood qualify. The farm opened in 1986. She said when riding, there's so many unknowns, which adds to the level of difficulty.

"The horse might buck, or the horse might stop at a jump," Johnston said. "You never know what the horse might do because they have a mind of their own."

The connection with the horse is what has drawn some riders to the sport.

"They have feelings, they have emotions," Deacon said. "To be able to feel that connection is just like, you can't explain it. It just attracts me so much. I love it."

Tamilio agreed, saying, "It's kind of like having like having a built in best friend. Someone that's always with you."

Johnston said since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, horse riding has taken off in popularity.

"A lot of people needed an outlet where they could do something where they could exercise, but keep distance," she said.

Deacon and Tamilio have rode horses most of their lives, but nothing compares to their recent trip down south.

"It's nationals, so it's definitely an honor to be there," said Deacon. "We all worked very very hard to qualify, and did our best."