TRAVERSE CITY — Reiley Wilson is not unlike most high school athletes who aim to continue competing at the collegiate level.
She’s driven and passionate about her sport, all the while dreaming of using athletics to get a free ride to college.
While Wilson’s dream has become reality, the equestrian scholarship she received from Tennessee-Martin did not come in conventional fashion.
Wilson signed a letter-of-intent with the Skyhawks despite not having a high school team to ride with or even a horse to call her own.
“It felt amazing, especially after working 10 years for it,” said Wilson, a senior at Traverse City St. Francis. “This is what I wanted to do ever since I started riding. I’m so happy I got (a scholarship) and I finally reached my goal.”
Because she doesn't ride with the St. Francis equestrian team, Wilson got her experience over the past 10 years riding at Northern Pines Farms in Maple City, where she’s among approximately 35-40 students who come to the farm to ride. Because Wilson doesn’t have her own horse, she’s been able to get experience on young horses that were in training or on sale horses that needed to be evaluated.
“She’s trained very hard on all our sale horses,” said Melissa Hirt, owner of Northern Pines Farms. “I gave her every opportunity to work for me at the horse shows to pay for her showing expenses. This didn’t come without a price. I think what’s really unique about it is, she’s a bit of an underdog. But because of her commitment she was out here several days a week, training all the time. Her aunt (Kathy Lofquist) brought her out here, paid for a lot of her lessons, paid for a lot of her horse shows. Then I trained her up to be able to go to the horse shows, care for the horses. That’s what really got her foot through the door with other trainers recognizing what she was doing and her as a rider. They were able to give us the recommendations as well to get into a college.”