Who knew there were college scholarships for theatre?
I didn't until about 10 years ago when my neighbor told me that her son, an actor in the high school plays, was in line for one.
It was déjà vu for me this week when I got an education about equestrian.
Who knew there were college scholarships for that, too? And full rides nonetheless.
Taylor Schmidt, 17, has been riding horses since she was 8 years old, and competing in national competitions since she was 13. Yet, even she didn't know that going to college for free was a possibility through riding.
But there Schmidt was on the NCAA's early signing day back in November, crossing the T's and dotting the I's on her Division I letter of intent, just like the more publicized college-bound athletes we usually hear about in sports such as football, basketball and volleyball.
Schmidt, a lifelong Batavia resident, will be riding in NCAA-sanctioned equestrian events for Southern Methodist University next year.
"I really had no idea about any of this either until around last March," Schmidt said of being able to earn a full ride. "Someone told me I should look into riding in college. It's a very unique situation. Not many schools are competitive in this. But they're out there."
After making up a resume and highlight tapes, Schmidt contacted coaches at some of the nation's top equestrian programs. In July, when she finished as the top rider for all divisions in her age group at the prestigious Horse Shows by the Bay competitions in Michigan, she got call-backs from everyone.
And then some.
She ended up taking official campus visits to SMU, TCU, Auburn and Baylor, where they gave her the royal treatment just like any other prospective athlete.
"I had a very successful July in Michigan," Schmidt said. "That definitely worked out well because that's when the coaches are trying to recruit, so I got a lot of opportunities from that.
"It's funny, because before I started sending out my resume to the coaches, I hadn't really thought too much about college in general. I was just worried about my schoolwork and about getting better at riding."
The better Schmidt became at riding, the harder school became. Traveling to 20-30 competitions a year can be taxing.
Said Schmidt: "This past year, I was the busiest ever, and was up around 30 competitions, and they were all out of state.
"It was difficult for me to keep up at school."
Up through last year, Schmidt she was a student at Batavia High School. But she decided not to enroll for her senior year, and instead signed up for an online curriculum that will keep her on track to graduate on time.
"It was hard at the beginning because I missed the atmosphere at school," Schmidt said. "But I needed to do this for my riding and that was my first priority. I still get to hang out with my friends when I'm in town."
In January, Schmidt will head to Florida, where she will take up temporary residence in order to compete in 12 straight weeks of competition.
The Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach County is considered to be one of the most prestigious competitions in the country, and Schmidt believes it will help prepare her for SMU.
"There are people from 30 to 40 countries at these competitions," said Schmidt, who sometimes rents horses for competitions but will be riding her own horse, Zana Wofsi, in Florida. "This will be a good way to get me ready for college, but (the festival) is also a really big deal. It's what I've been building up to since I was little."
Schmidt was into all kinds of sports when she was in grade school.
"But I was never totally in love with any of them," Schmidt said.
Then, at the suggestion of a babysitter, Schmidt took her first riding lesson.
"I knew on that first day that I had found my sport," Schmidt said. "I just had a natural knack for it. And I just loved the horses. I fell in love with the whole idea of it. I watched videos of people riding horses (in competitions) and I knew that I wanted to do that, too."
About 18 months later, Schmidt entered her first competition. Since then, she's won thousands of dollars in prize money, but has used most of it to offset competition fees.
For the next four years as an NCAA athlete, Schmidt won't be able to accept any prize money.
But Schmidt is more than OK with that. What she's getting in return is of far greater value to her.
"I had the option to pursue a professional career right away and not even go to college," Schmidt said. "But I know I can always do that. I don't want to miss out on competing in college and getting my degree paid for. I want to get a real job someday in business or medicine.
"I'm just so thankful for this opportunity because I almost didn't know it was out there."
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