Tuesday, June 28, 2016
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Cheyenne Stoudt, of Tuttle, rides her horse Firecracker during practice with the Freedom Riders Equestrian Drill Team.(Staff photo by Jeff Harrison)
By Jeff Harrison
Managing Editor

Riding onto the area floor for competition is an emotional experience for Madison Coil. The Mustang teen loves the tight bond she shares with her fellow Freedom Rider Equestrian Team members and the excitement as drill routine begins.

“It’s just such a huge adrenaline rush when we ride out there in front of the crowd,” Coil said.
But earlier this year, she was hit with a different emotion. High school graduation was approaching and the possibility of having to leave the team was sinking in for Coil.

“I remember I just started crying during a performance because I thought it might be my last time to ride with the team,” she said.

Luckily for Coil, those plans changed. This fall, she will be attending Oklahoma City Community College and she will continue riding with the Tuttle-based team she joined six years ago.

“At the time I started, I was just trail riding horses for fun, but had never done anything like this,” she said. “I saw other drill teams at rodeos and just fell in love with it. It’s one of those things that will always be a part of my life.”

Those intense feelings are shared by her teammates on the Freedom Riders. The group of young riders put countless time and effort into building their competitive program and strong relationships.

“I really enjoy being around everyone on our team and the just the family aspect of it,” said Savannah Polson, 15, of Tuttle. “Everyone really understands you and is supportive.”

The Freedom Riders currently have 21 members who are split up into senior, junior and pewee level teams. The group has both male and female riders which range in age from 11 to 24 years old. Riders come from all over the area including Tuttle, Mustang, Union City, El Reno, Yukon and Oklahoma City.

The team is currently on the tail end of the season which begins in February. They practice every Tuesday night at the Tuttle Rodeo Arena and participate in a number of competitions, show and events through November. The highlight of the year has been performances in the AQHA World Show and NRHA Futurity Show.

“Those shows are huge and any drill team in America would die for a chance to perform there and these kids have done it a couple years in a row,” said Freedom Riders coach Heather Comerate who also rides on one of the drills. “It’s a big honor and they have really made a splash with people that run them.”

The team performs two drills, one which changes each year.

“I thought they’d get bored with the other drill, but they don’t because I move them around the positions each year,” she said.

The Freedom Riders team was created by Betty Baker about seven years ago.  After a few years, the team was looking for a new coach and asked Comerate to lead the team. Comerate, who lives in McLoud, declined the request but offered to train a few parents.

While training the parents, she became attached to the girls on the team. After the two coaches quit the team, Comerate took over the program.

“Ordinarily when I coach a team I’m there for two days straight so I never get to see the finished product, but this way I got to see them every week and grow with them,” Comerate said. “I drive a long ways, but it’s worth it.”

Coil was one of the nine riders that stuck with the team, and said Comerate was the reason why.

“I thought the team was going to die, and I don’t want to say Heather was our knight in shining armor, but she literally saved the team,” Coil said.

The Freedom Riders had one team during Comerate’s first two years as coach. They added a junior team last year and a pewee team this spring.

“We just had a lot of little sisters playing in the dirt during practices so we wanted to get at least get them on a horse,” she said. “It was silly to have them waste their time because what they wanted to do was ride. They weren’t good enough for the senior team so one of the dads, Link Polson, stepped up and coached them.”

The younger teams became an instant hit.

“Nobody in the drill world knew a six-year-old could do that,” Comerate said. “And we took them to their first competition and the crowd went crazy.”

Link Polson said he’s been impressed with dedication and riding ability of the young riders.

“Some of these girls would like to be on a horse more than anything else,” he said. “They do a really good job, they listen and they understand. It’s amazing how much they understand.”

Comerate said one of the keys to the team’s success has been their positive approach to the sport.

“I base everything on being positive and base it on what they can do as opposed to what they can’t do,” she said. “It’s just taken off. They got so good, so fast. I didn’t expect it.”

That positive attitude is demanded of the riders as well.

“It doesn’t matter how good of rider you are, if you don’t treat others respectfully you can’t be a part of the team,” Comerate said. “I hardly have any problem with it. And when there is an issue I tackle it and get rid of it however it has to be done.”

Comerate said the team has also benefited from dedicated group of parents. They pack the stands during practices and competitions and help with everything from sewing costumes to providing first aid, while providing financial support.

“There are a lot of expenses with travel, costumes and everything but it’s worth it,” Comerate said.

They also receive support from a loyal group of local businesses.

The Freedom Riders will be performing next week at the Tuttle Rodeo on Saturday, Aug. 4. They will also perform at the Oklahoma State Fair Drill Team Competition on Sept. 14-15.

For more information about the group visit freedomridersdrillteam.org, find them on Facebook or contact Heather Comerate at (405) 517-0109.

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