On the lists of area athletes signing with college teams recently, one was a bit out of the ordinary.
Annika Hanson, South Dakota State: Equestrian.
The Mahtomedi senior, who started riding horses at age two, and is much-decorated in the sport, will join one of just 23 collegiate equestrian teams in the nation.
“I’m beyond excited to start this next chapter as a Jackrabbit,” stated Hanson, a member of the Washington County 4-H team and her school’s team. “I am forever grateful to be a Zephyr, and have been blessed with numerous riding opportunities.”
SDSU, coached by Elizabeth Wilkins, is among 19 equestrian teams in Division I and the only one in the Upper Midwest. (There are four in Division II, including Minnesota.) Their schedule takes them to Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, which, for Hanson, will be nothing new.
Hanson was first placed on horses on her grandparents’ farm while a small child. Her parents, who grew up around horses, eventually found a barn for her to take lessons. The trainer took her to a couple shows and showed her the ropes. “I fell in love with it,” she said.
Competing since age 11, Hanson has collected batches of ribbons and trophies. She is a five-time 4-H state champion. This year, she won titles in shows held by several different associations, including Appaloosa Horse Club Youth World show held in Fort Worth, Texas (Novice Western Pleasure World Champion, top ten in horsemanship), Western Saddle Club Association at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (Equitation champion), and Color Breed Congress in Tulsa, OK (All-Around Champion, for the second straight year).
Hanson competes in eight events. Showmanship, bareback, equitation, horsemanship, and trail are all “pattern” classes, judged on the rider’s positioning and guidance of the horse. The Hunter under Saddle, and Western Pleasure, events involve riding at different gaits around the rail and judged on how well the horse moves. In halter and showmanship, the rider is on the ground leading the horse, each judged on presentation.
“Personally I feel like I am best at equitation, horsemanship, and showmanship,” Hanson assessed.
“It also depends on your horse. My main horse, George, has always excelled in patterns, especially equitation. It helps when your horse has a natural act for a class.”
George is a 19-year-old Bay Appaloosa she’s had for five years. "He is super athletic, talented, loves food, and is full of attitude.” There’s also Tyga, a 4-year-old Bay Appaloosa. “He helped me win my first World Title. He loves to sleep and eat.” She sometimes shows with her mom’s horse, Floyd, a 6-year-old Palomino Appaloosa. “Floyd is very lazy and loves attention.”
Hanson, who also played soccer before putting all her focus on equestrian, savors the challenges presented by her sport.
“It’s a lot of early morning, late nights, hours on the road, and hard work, but it's totally worth it,”
She saddles up to some fun relationships, too.
“I have friends I talk to everyday who are from Texas and Michigan. I think that’s pretty cool and unique.”