BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Michael Golinowski's first season as an IHSA competitor at Bridgewater was quite the ride.
He started the year expecting to compete for the Eagles in the novice classes. He finished the year, winning on one the biggest stages offered to IHSA riders.
"I was expecting to compete with the team in the novice division, but we needed an open rider and the coaches took a chance on me," Golinowski said.
In his very first IHSA show with the Eagles, Golinowski placed first on the flat and second over fences in the open division at the Preseason Tournament of Champions show.
Golinowski performed well throughout his first season and finished in fourth-place in the regional Cacchione Cup standings, a medal championship division combining flat and fences points.
His first season culminated with an invitation to compete in the first-ever IHSA Metropolitan Equitation Finals to be held during The Longines Masters of New York. The event showcased 25 of the top IHSA open riders in the nation.
The riders competed over fences and then the top 12 were called back to compete on the flat. When the scores were tallied, Golinowski was the winner of the inaugural event.
The event was held at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Coliseum and featured three days of world-class equestrian competition, culminating with the famed Longines Grand Prix.
"Compared to our normal IHSA shows, this event certainly had a different feel to it," said Golinowski. "The arena is huge and you see a lot of new faces. It's one of the most prestigious shows in the world. The top riders in the world are walking around. It was rather intimidating, very nerve-wracking."
Adding to the stress level was the fact that Golinowski came into the event not riding his best.
"My season did not end on a good note and I still had that in the back of my head" Golinowski said. "At a big event, you don't want to go out and embarrass yourself."
The Bridgewater rider had one personal goal entering the competition. "I wanted to finish in the Top 12 over fences. I wanted to put a good enough course together to be brought back to ride on the flat. I wanted to go out and ride to the best of my ability."
For the first phase, Golinowski drew a horse named Orion provided by Orion Training Stables. "The first jump was pretty good, but the next two were a little tight and that had me a little nervous," Golinowski said. "After that, I found a good rhythm. The horse was fantastic for me."
Golinowski felt like he had put together a good ride, but he was surprised and excited to finish in the top half, earning a chance to compete on the flat. He wasn't as confident about his performance on the flat. "I thought I was 12th for sure," he said after riding a mare named Zazu provided by St. Lawrence University. "The horse didn't compete in the jumping faze and I think that was a little disadvantage. For whatever reason, that horse was a handful, but she made me ride stronger."
To say the least, Golinowski was surprised when he was announced as the champion. "I was stunned. It was unbelievable. I never expected to win against that kind of competition in an event this big."
Winning the IHSA Metropolitan has Golinowski looking forward to next season.
"It's definitely a huge confidence booster," Golinowski stated. "This is going to help me in the future. Like I said earlier, my season didn't end the way I wanted. It reaffirms that I can hold up under the pressure. I'm thankful the coaches took a chance on me to start the season as an open rider. I guess this big win proved they were right."