Nov 08, 2023

Meet The IEL Teams: L'Esprit Equestrian

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Members of the L'Esprit Equestrian Team. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Howlett Rousseau

For professional Jennifer Howlett Rousseau, the USEA’s Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) was a natural fit for her students.

Based at her L’Esprit Equestrian in Woodstock, Illinois, Rousseau enjoys teaching children and young adults and tries to foster a team environment in the barn.

“I thought [IEL] would be a good introduction [to a team environment] so they’d have an understanding when they went off to college and were maybe considering an eventing team in college,” she said.

The IEL was created in 2020 to provide a format for team competitions for 7th through 12th grade junior members of the USEA, and starting in 2024, the program will be expanded to include 5th and 6th graders. The mission of the IEL is to foster team camaraderie, provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests, and create a pathway to participation in the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program. Teams are made up of junior eventers that share common bonds, such as attending the same school, being a part of the same Pony Club, or riding with the same trainer.

The name L’Esprit comes from the French word for “spirit.” Originally from Montreal, Canada, Rousseau felt the word defined who she was as a rider and that her students now embody that intention.

“We’re serious competitors but we’re having fun, and we’re interested in how our co-team members are doing, and we work together as a group,” she said. “Eventing is an individual sport, but there’s such great value in a team, even though you’re competing against each other—they end up helping each other, sharing in each other’s losses and gains, so nobody has to go through anything alone. It’s fine when you’re riding on your high horse and winning all your events, but I think the most valuable part is they get to share the struggles, and everybody has them—of horses and riding and eventing as a sport.”

The L’Esprit team roster currently consists of 11 riders. This year, eight of those riders qualified for the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds, and five made the trip with to Lexington, Kentucky. The team enjoyed the chance to watch the Friday night Grand Prix in the Rolex Stadium as part of the IEL program, and thanks to team manager Ingrid Pavilanis who rallied everyone together.

Rousseau’s always made sure her students are hands-on in the barn and learning important horse management skills, and that extends to the IEL team as well.

“We have a standard of management, and luckily quite a few of these kids came through the Pony Club system, so that helps as well,” she said. “Because we travel and show as a team, we stable together, we generally do a fairly formal setup of our stable and tack room area, and we have a standard of appearance, organization, and care, which everybody has to be a part of. The horse management and organization and competition preparedness, that all comes under the banner of what we feel teamwork means.”

Teamwork also means that riders are there to support each other, whether it’s an older, more experienced rider mentoring a younger rider who’s struggling to move up, or teammates waiting at the finish line to help cool off a horse after cross-country.

Rousseau is excited for next year’s IEL season and hopes to target some team competitions if they’re offered in Area IV.

“Because I work with a lot of young people, I always say that eventing and horses in general are life skill building tools,” she said. "My young riders and juniors are very successful in their chosen sport, but what I’m most interested in is that these young people maximize these opportunities to learn those valuable life lessons, and ultimately seek to become the best version of themselves.

“Not everybody’s going to be an Olympian, but we treat everybody like they are future Olympians and that they should all feel like if they have the desire and decided to go down that path, that they too could represent the country at the highest possible level,” she added.

About the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL)

In August 2020, the USEA Board of Governors approved the creation of the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) as an official program of the USEA. The mission of IEL is to unite junior riders who are in the 7-12th grade and provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests. A group of junior members in the 7th-12th grade who share a common bond, such as the same barn, school, Pony Club, or other connection, can register with the USEA as an interscholastic team. Click here to learn more about the Interscholastic Eventing League.

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Weekend Quick Links: May 18-19

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.

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