ADRIAN, Mich.--Sophomore Rachel Kanaziz, of North Branch, is proud to be blazing a trail for future Adrian College riders with her appearance this weekend at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships held at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
The IHSA Nationals is a four-day event, but Kanaziz will be competing in the Western Novice Horsemanship at 8 a.m. Sunday. This marks the first time in the brief equestrian history at Adrian College that the Bulldogs will have representation in the sport at the national level.
"I'm humbled by the fact that I have his opportunity to compete with such talented other riders," stated Kanaziz, who is a double-major in environmental science and English. "It's a great experience to meet girls from all over the nation that share the same passion that I do and listen to their stories and perspectives.
"I'm so grateful to have such a supportive community that encourages my learning and pushes me to stay engaged in the important things in life," she said. "From my parents, coach, friends, family, neighbors, teammates, and school, I can't express my gratitude enough. I'm blessed beyond belief that I have this opportunity to experience such an incredible honor."
Kanaziz, who is one of many Adrian riders who have contributed to setting program records this season, qualified for Nationals after placing in the top-4 at the IHSA Regional Championships in March at Black Hawk College in Moline, Ill. Adrian College will be one of 12 other teams in the Western competition.
"My goal this year was to qualify for Regionals. I barely thought twice about the possibility of qualifying for Semi-Finals as well, let alone having the opportunity to compete at Nationals," Kanaziz says with an afterthought.
"However, reaching the next level wasn't, and isn't, the ultimate goal for me. Instead, my true objective is simply to work harder in order to feel confident about the effort I put into preparing myself for new challenges. Then, when it comes time to compete, I focus on simply enjoying the fact that I was able to reach the level I have and appreciate the opportunity to showcase all of the effort I have put in."
First-year Adrian coach Jaclynn Gray believes that Kanaziz is well-prepared for this moment to compete at the national stage.
"Rachel has the competitive drive and the consistency judges look for to be in a position to win," she said. "While it will be tough, I know she will be rewarded appropriately and whatever that may happen, this school and program could not be more proud."
Kanaziz has been practicing cleaning up her maneuvers, starting patterns well, and maintaining momentum as well as keeping her riding routines at a high degree of difficulty.
Gray notes that consistency is the key in the sport of equestrian, adding "making sure you know where your strong points are and being able to show them off in the pen, and while keeping soft on your weaker spots."
Gray also sees the benefits of experience and exposure that a trip to the Bluegrass State can give a young Bulldogs squad.
"This is the kind of platform this program has needed. I think this is a great way to show what we are made of and that we will work hard to reach our goal, basically setting up the future of our program. And we couldn't think of a better athlete in Rachel to be the first to do this, as she has been instrumental in helping our Western Seat team work so hard on polishing their skills and being better horsemen. Nationals is proof that it has paid off."
But Kanaziz is not assuming a national championship.
"Success is being satisfied with all your hard work, yet motivated to continue to push yourself to reach beyond your average state of effort," she stated. "It's not about the label other people use to gauge your efforts, (rather) it's about the satisfaction you feel in yourself."
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