MTSU Western Horseback Riders Repeat as IHSA National Champions

The Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raider equestrian Western team has “ridden” to the occasion once again.

For the second consecutive year, stellar team and individual riding performances have helped them earn the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Horse and Rider-sponsored Western discipline team national championship.

Team member Jordan Martin of Murfreesboro, after finishing second in 2023, rode a horse named Gunador to win the coveted Back on Track USA-sponsored Western High Point honor in the event held May 3-5 at Tryon International in Mill Spring, North Carolina. Martin also captured the American Paint Horse Association-sponsored Horse and Rider Team Open Horsemanship, this time aboard a horse named Robin, provided by St. Andrews University in North Carolina.

As Sadio Barnes, center, carries the national championship trophy, Middle Tennessee State University coaches Ariel Higgins, left, and Andrea Rego and Western discipline team members return to the Horse Science Center on Thompson Lane in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with other awards, celebrating their second consecutive Intercollegiate Horse Show Association title. Team members include Jordan Martin, Mackenzie Latimer, Simone Allen, Sadio Barnes, Monica Braunwalder, Kenlee West, Louann Braunwalder, Regan Black, Shelby Amanns and Alyssa Davis. (Submitted photo)

Along with the qualified team, the Blue Raider riders had an individual qualified in all seven Western divisions, a Western high point rider, as well as one hunter seat rider. MTSU riders won with 47 points. St. Andrew’s University earned reserve honors with 38.5 points.

Team members also included Mackenzie Latimer, Simone Allen, Sadio Barnes, Monica Braunwalder, Kenlee West, Louann Braunwalder, Regan Black, Shelby Amanns and Alyssa Davis. An IHSA video featured MTSU’s win.

“There was a lot of pressure going into this year, but (fellow coach) Andrea Rego and I tried our best to lessen those tense moments with preparation and also some fun and laughs any time we could,” said Ariel Higgins, MTSU equestrian teams coach and director.

Middle Tennessee State University Western team members, from left, Simone Allen, Sadio Barnes, Mackenzie Latimer, Jordan Martin and Monica Braunwalder lift the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national championship trophy earned for the second consecutive year. This year’s competition was held May 3-5 at Tryon International in Mill Spring, N.C., and was an outstanding team and individual effort by the Blue Raider riders. (MTSU photo by Andrea Rego)

“All of the team riders are so mentally strong that they were able to dial in and focus on riding to the best of their ability when it mattered,” Higgins added. “They have practiced for as many situations as we could think of so that they could take it all in stride in the arena. I was so impressed by all of them. They all helped each other prepare for their classes and were there to cheer each other on. Those moments were special to watch unfold.”

With many team riders graduating, Higgins and Rego look to rebuild for the 2024-25 season “with the current and upcoming talent on the team,” Higgins said. “The challenge of performing consistently at the top does not escape us. We will put in our best effort and, right now, we are all just enjoying this honor.”

The Western discipline originated from ranch work, but has since evolved to highly specialized events that require skill, timing and a great level of knowledge from both horse and rider to perform, Higgins said.

To follow the equestrian team on Facebook, go to

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