GLENDALE — Throughout her four years at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, senior Meghan Fitzpatrick never wavered from her commitment to the physically demanding and time-consuming sport of high school equestrian, despite an already loaded schedule of classes and activities.
On May 21, the sport she loves gave something back in return.
The Georgetown University-bound Fitzpatrick was the unanimously-voted recipient of the Interscholastic Equestrian League's Most Outstanding Senior Scholarship Award and it's accompanying $3,000 college scholarship based on her academic achievements, record of community service and performance at the league's four competitions this season.
"It was really great," Fitzpatrick said of receiving the award. "It's so nice to be recognized for my riding abilities, my love for horses and academic achievement."
Fitzpatrick took up the sport at the young age of 3 and trained at the Flintridge Riding Club before competing in the IEL, which features teams from over 80 different high schools across Southern California.
"I was like any little girl who loves horses and I've loved [equestrian] ever since," she said.
This season Fitzpatrick and her black warmblood male Armageddon finished sixth in the varsity medal standings and 21st overall in the points standings for the varsity division, in which riders run four to five laps around a course and must clear obstacles standing 3 feet 6 inches high at high speeds on the back of a half-ton animal.
There's a reason why they call it 'horsepower,' they're strong," Fitzpatrick says. "You have to be able to be in control of the horse. Horses have a mind of their own and it can be dangerous and unpredictable, but it's also exhilarating.
"When you start as a little kid, you don't have any fear, but for adults as beginners, it's terrifying. It just becomes muscle memory."
In the final competition of the season at Hanson Dam Equestrian Center on April 17, Fitzpatrick competed in the hunter, jumper and equitation events and had the third-best showing in the foremost.
Her efforts helped the Tologs' six-member team finish 10th out of 62 teams in the varsity division for the season.
"We're very proud of her because we go up against some really big teams from Marlborough and La Cañada and these other school where they have 20-25 students on a team," said Kelly Bothamley, moderator of the Sacred Heart team, which includes Bronwyn Adams-Cohen, Claire McGahan, Paige Parker, Payton parker and Olivia Warner. "[The team members] really impress me every time I see them. They're very talented."
Bothamley said that the sport puts intense demands on the team members' time and focus because of the need to exercise and care for the horses and build bonds between rider and steed.
"Most of the girls on the team have been riding from a very young age," Bothamley said. "If they do own a horse, they are at the stable at least every other day taking care of and training the horse. It really is a full-time job.
"These girls are not only taking five AP courses, but they're also taking care of this incredible animal and going to these competitions. It's a challenge to them as students to use their time wisely and dedicate it to the right areas."
Fitzpatrick is looking forward to attending Georgetown in the fall, but will have to put equestrian on the shelf for a while, as the Hoyas do not have a program.
"I'm really disappointed, but I fell in love with the school," Fitzpatrick said. "Virginia is horse country, so I will be able to ride all the time, and maybe I am ready for a new life change where I'm not riding six days a week.
"But I would love to do [equestrian] again. It's the best thing ever."