CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Niewojna to represent SDSU at AQHA Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge | TSLN.com

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Niewojna to represent SDSU at AQHA Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge

The 2014 American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championship Show is just around the corner. Elite equine and and top-notch riders will gather for the annual event on Nov. 7-22 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

In conjunction with the world event, AQHA has selected eight National Collegiate Equestrian Association riders to compete in the 2014 Collegiate Horsemanship Challenge on Nov. 19-20. Among those riders is Elizabeth Niewojna, a sophomore at South Dakota State University (SDSU).

"I'm really looking forward to competing and representing my team and school," said Niewojna. "I love the challenge of figuring out a new horse and being able to ride a difficult pattern within only a couple of minutes."

Niewojna hails from Wilsall, Mont., and in her freshman debut for SDSU's Equestrian Team, she posted a team-best eight wins, which ties a school record for horsemanship wins in a season, and ranks fifth all-time for career wins.

"Elizabeth is a very strong rider," said Megan Rossiter, head coach for the SDSU Equestrian Team. "She was selected base on her ranking from last year's competitions. She's already made a big impact as a Jackrabbit equestrian, and I know she will represent SDSU well at the Challenge."

The eight competitors are all student-athletes during the 2014-15 season and represent eight different institutions at the event. The AQHA used 2013-14 individual statistics for horsemanship to select the riders.

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"To prepare, I'm experimenting with different horses and discovering new and useful tools and techniques to improve certain maneuvers and patterns," said Niewojna. "I'm also looking at video reviews of my rides and seeing what I need to improve on."

Niewojna has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment. Her childhood was spent in New Jersey, where she learned to ride and fell in love with horses. From there, her parents moved her to Montana, where she picked up barrel racing and learned to cut cattle on her horse.

"I really fell in love with riding when I got my horse, Babe," said Niewojna. "She was such a sweetheart to me, and I'm happy to still have her at home in Montana. I always watched the older girls training and working out, and I knew I wanted to grow up and be like them. So I started working hard at it and practicing, and it's paid off."

Wanting to be competitive in shows, she started working with trainers, and one opportunity led her to Colorado, where she completed her high school years online while training and learning the ropes of competitive horsemanship. As she completed high school, she planned to go to a local community college until a friend suggested SDSU.

"I checked out SDSU, and I fell in love," said Niewojna, who is studying English writing and graphic design. "It's a home away from home for me. The Equestrian Team is so strong, and I just feel like I'm in the right place."

Niewojna will continue to train as she prepares for the horsemanship challenge, and she looks forward to stepping onto a new horse and conquering the course at the show.

"I love the feeling of being at a show," she said. "I love competing and traveling the same show circuit as my friends. It makes me feel good to give it all I've got, and see the results of my hard work."

In addition to Niewojna, the remaining seven collegiate riders selected for the AQHA Horsemanship Challenge include: Samantha Chiodo, South Carolina; Lauren DeVoe, New Mexico State; Sydney Elliot, Fresno State; Lindsey McMullen, Oklahoma State; Megan McMullen, TCU; Logan Pluhar, Texas A&M; Heather Schmidt, Georgia; and First Alternate: Lucy Igoe, Auburn; and Second Alternate: McKenzie Perry, UT-Martin.

"This is a really great event because the collegiate riders get to attend the AQHA event and be showcased in front of the best of the best," said Rossiter. "Plus they get the opportunity to watch the open horses there, as well. It's very neat for the collegiate riders."

Niewojna feels confident going into the 2014-15 season, as she should. Last year, she gained a lot of attention for her horsemanship wins. She posted a team-best two MOPs in horsemanship as a freshman, which ties her for third all-time in career MOPs. She started her career with a win and MOP honors with a score of 72 in the season-opener vs. UT-Martin at the Willis Invitational, the first of three wins at the tournament. She also won vs. New Mexico State with a score of 72 and at Baylor with a season-high score of 75.5. She recovered from her first-career loss with a win and MOP vs. third-ranked TCU at the New Mexico State Tournament with a score of 73.5. She earned her first-career home win vs. No. 2 South Carolina and also won at home vs. number-five Kansas State and vs. Minnesota-Crookston. She closed the season with a win over UT-Martin in the Independent Championship Tournament Finals.

"I'm extremely excited about our upcoming season," said Niewojna. "SDSU has an amazing and talented equestrian team. Showing and riding with these ladies gives me a huge feeling of pride and happiness, and I can't wait for the season to start!"

The SDSU Equestrian team will kick off the season this month with a double header at Kansas Sate, followed by an event at Oklahoma State the same weekend.

"We have a really strong team this year," added Rossiter. "We are very excited to compete."

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