Kayley Melton cancelled her plans to attend Arizona to come to Crookston.
(1,879 miles from Crookston)
Hunt Seat Equestrian
How did you make your way to Minnesota Crookston?
Oh my goodness. It was kind of a crazy thing, because I was set up to go to the University of Arizona to the point that when I made my decision to come here, I had to cancel my housing, my meal plan and everything. So the way it happened is, I was talking to one of my friends, Kate Brekke, that is going to school in Minnesota as well. She said, “Why don’t you look at schools in Minnesota?” My mom also had this crazy, weird dream that I was riding for an NCAA Women’s Equestrian Team in Minnesota. So I Googled that, and I found Crookston, reached out to the coach and she was really interested. I came up here and tried out and was handed a team jacket the same day.
Why were you planning to go to Arizona?
It was only about six hours from home. They had an IHSA Equestrian Team, the club side of things. I was supposed to ride for them. My goal was to always be on an elite team. I found that here, and I found the more recognized aspect of it since U of A doesn’t recognize the team. I enjoyed the smaller atmosphere rather than being just a number at a big university.
Where there any other schools you were considering?
No. Just U of A.
How were you able to give up being closer to home and move 1,800 miles away?
Once I got up here and got the feeling of the campus and the coach and the team, it just kind of felt like home. It was the right decision, and where I was supposed to be at. Even though I was deathly terrified of leaving and being away. There’s just something here that was safe here. That’s what kept me confident.
How did your visit to Crookston go before attending?
I came up and did tryouts for recruitment with the coach. That same weekend, I was receiving an academic scholarship. We just planned it around that.
How often do you get to visit your hometown?
Only on major breaks. The last time I was home was winter break, because I did a study abroad trip in Ireland for spring break. I won’t have been home since Christmas when I go home for summer.
Has your family visited you in Crookston yet?
They came up a couple weekends ago for our last home show. I’ll see them in zones at Chicago in April. They’re planning to try and make more next year.
How do you handle missing birthdays and holidays?
FaceTime. Lots and lots of phone calls. I talk to most of my family at least three to four times per week. Just keeping them updated on everything. I’ll use a lot of mail to send gifts and different things.
How did your parents feel about you moving to Minnesota?
At first, my mom was a little nervous about me leaving. My grandfather and my father were the ones that came up and did the visit with me. After they saw the campus and everything else, they agreed this was where I need to be. They were just as happy with the school as I was. My mother and my grandfather did the tour with me at U of A, and my grandfather said, “She needs to stay away from U of A.” That’s when my mother was really confident in my decision. Her visit up here not too long ago kind of solidified that this is going to be home the next four years.
Why did your grandfather favor Crookston over Arizona?
He really noticed that I was just a number at U of A. When we did the tour, we were literally handed a number and a group number. That was how you were identified. The minute that I walked through the doors here, I ran into my advisor, and she knew who I was right away without me having to introduce myself.
How long have you been riding?
Ever since I was pretty much born. Competitively, I’ve been riding for 13 years. My mother and grandmother were both trainers for the hunt seat style of riding. When I was born, I was practically born into the saddle.
What was your equestrian program like at your high school?
They did not have one, but they recognized me as an athlete through them. So I actually got to use my school’s name in the Scholastic Equestrian League in Southern California. Even though I was an individual going against teams, I was still super successful with all that.
How did you train?
My grandmother trains me at home, and then I train with someone, Shayne Wireman of Chestnut Hills Equestrian Center, in Southern California. Normally, I go up twice a month on the weekends and take an hour to two hours worth of lessons in a day. We’ll work on whatever I need to work on, and then she’ll send home what she thinks I need to work on for the next set of lessons that we drive up for. It’s about a four to four and a half hour drive.
Did you compete in any other sports in high school?
No. I was looking into track, but it’s in the middle of equestrian season, so I wasn’t able to.
When did it occur to you that you had the chance to compete collegiately?
It kind of built up over time. One of my friends, Nicole Leonard, actually rides for Texas A&M’s equestrian team. We train together, and she was the one that talked me into looking for that NCAA team. We competed on the same skill level and the same type of divisions. We were constantly going back and forth between first and second, so I knew if I could compete with a Division I athlete, I would be able to fulfill my dream of going into NCAA as well.
Why do you feel it is important to explore new places away from home?
Getting away from home, I was really able to grow up and become more independent. I was really able to figure out who I was as a person and my goals and dreams instead of having to base myself off what people around me thought I should do. It gave me that time away and got me out into my own world away from what I’ve known. I like to tell people never be afraid to try new things, because you never know what’s going to happen. For me, it’s worked in so many ways. I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s mostly been a life-changing experience. I know that if I wouldn’t have taken that leap of faith, I may have never been where I am now.
How long did it take you getting comfortable to saying Crookston is your home?
It took me a full semester. Last semester, I was really debating on leaving and going back home. I was super homesick. I come from the sunniest city on Earth, and it was very cloudy and very dingy. Not having that was very difficult. But the more I got comfortable with my routine and realized the amazing support system I have here, I knew I couldn’t leave.
Who assisted you in getting acclimated to living in Crookston?
One of my close friends, Morgan Schelske, is from the cities. Her and I really hit it off, because she was really close with her family and was struggling with homesickness at the same time. We actually tried out together. We’re kind of on that same basis of how we joined the team. Coach Krueger did a great job of making the team feel like home and making the practices feel a lot like what I was used to. She’s super supportive of all of us. My captains, Selena Young and Mazie Pini, really helped with that as well.
What do you see for yourself after college?
Right now, I’m looking to go into the business side of the equine world. Whether that be advertising for selling horses or helping with breeding and selling of show horses and working on the international circuit as well with their riders and trainers and promoting them. I’ll probably end up on the east coast where more of the international teams are. Florida is really heavy in it, and it could go up all the way to the New York area.
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