Hudson graduate Emma Kurtz takes 'horseplay" to a whole new level at Auburn

Kent Weeklies

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette once said, “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”

It’s a good bet Emma Kurtz would wholeheartedly agree with the 20th-century French author.

That’s because many of the 2018 Hudson graduate’s “perfect companions” can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They’re also known for wearing hooves instead of shoes.

When it comes to the 19-year-old Kurtz, the phrase “horseplay” may have a different meaning for her than it does for the rest of us.

She has some prestigious hardware to prove it.

Kurtz recently completed a successful season for the Auburn University equestrian team. The rising junior helped lead the Tigers to a 13-0 season, including a 6-0 record in the Southeastern Conference.

Unfortunately, Auburn, which has won six national titles since 2006, saw its season come to an abrupt end due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus.

Prior to the global pandemic, the Tigers were considered heavy favorites to win their third consecutive national championship.

“It was disappointing to see our season cut short, especially since we were hoping to win another national championship,” Kurtz said. “Although we understood that everyone’s health and safety comes first, it was disappointing that we were not able to finish.”

There has been nothing disappointing about Kurtz’s first two years at Auburn. Kurtz, who is majoring in business finance, is a four-time National Collegiate Equestrian Association All-American.

The standout hunt-seat rider specializes in both the flat and fences competitions in a sport that was first introduced in the 1900 Summer Olympics.

As for the collegiate level, five individuals per team compete in two hunt-seat and two western events. Each rider is matched with one of five horses in a random draw and one member of each team rides the same horse.

In the fences competition, judges score a performance based on position, smoothness and the number of strides. As for the flat competition, judges evaluate nine movements and the overall position of the rider. Each movement receives a score of one to 10 and the 10th score is based on overall performance of the rider.

The rider with the higher score on her assigned horse is awarded a point for her team. If a rider reaches 100 points, she will achieve a perfect score.

Kurtz, who began her horseback-riding career at the Hudson Equestrian Center when she was 5 years old, has never been accused of being biased when it comes to her odd-toed mammal companions.

The accomplished teenager has a knack for falling in love with just about every horse she encounters. As for the horses, the feeling seems to be overwhelmingly mutual.

“As a junior, I always wanted to compete as much as I could, which meant riding for other trainers and owners,” Kurtz said. “This often meant getting on a horse for the first time right before competition.

“Over my junior years, I was fortunate to compete on hundreds of horses — all that required different skills. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity so that I could continue to develop as a rider. This truly helped prepare me for the format of college riding.”

It sure did.

Kurtz’s ability to bond with horses is particularly important in the highly competitive world of college athletics. Particularly in a power conference such as the SEC.

“There is definitely a home-team advantage,” Auburn associate head coach Jessica Braswell said. “It’s about making quick adjustments and riding the horse you have that day.

“Emma is the type of person the horses really like. She never met a horse she didn’t get along with.”

So how did Kurtz wind up in Alabama?

She became a household name in the sport when she competed in national events for the Madison Hills Farm team in Gates Mills.

Thanks to her accomplishments against the top riders in the nation, Kurtz became a hot commodity for a number of NCAA schools.

That included longtime Tigers head coach Greg Williams, who recently was named the NCEA Coach of the Year.

“Emma had an awesome career before she came to Auburn,” Williams said. “She is a tremendous rider and a great competitor. She is also the ultimate team player. She loves the other riders on the team.”

Kurtz, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, plans to pursue a master’s degree after she graduates. As for her immediate future, Kurtz will continue enjoying her time in Alabama with some of her closest friends.

In and out of the arena.

“Riding at Auburn has been an incredible experience for me, starting with the teamwork aspect,” Kurtz said. “Riding as a junior is an individual sport and college riding gives you a great opportunity to compete as part of a team.

“Coach Williams continually stresses the importance of all-around development where we focus on teamwork, community service, accountability and academic achievement. We volunteer at local elementary schools where we often serve lunches and assist teachers.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to learn from both Coach Braswell and Coach Williams.”

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, or @Faceto_Gannett.