Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- Patrick Pirtle planned to be in the saddle for New Mexico State University's Equestrian Team in regional competition in Las Cruces this past weekend. He had delayed graduation one more semester so he could compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association.
On Jan. 23, the 22-year-old Roswell native unexpectedly died in his sleep, leaving a void on the team that ranked second in the nation last year. The team's first show since Pirtle's death was dedicated to the senior.
"Patrick was definitely one of the leaders on the team," said Larry Sanchez, equestrian team coach. "He was a very unique person who added a flair to the equestrian team that made us sparkle. He also had a special way of handling situations that seemed to keep team members laughing."
Pirtle shared in the stock seat team's 1997 reserve national champion finish. He was a versatile rider, who competed in both stock seat (Western) and hunt seat (English) divisions. In English competition, he rode in the flat and over fences categories.
Last year, Pirtle won zone champion in beginning stock seat and was reserve overall champion in the intermediate division at the Champion of Champions Invitational, hosted by NMSU. He also won reserve national champion in beginning stock seat and was ready to go for the championship title this year.
"His chances were very good at winning the championship," Sanchez said. "He had already qualified for the first stage in order to go to nationals." Riders who place first, second or third at regionals advance to the zone competition and must place first, second or third to earn a spot at nationals.
Pirtle served as treasurer of the equestrian team. He was selected as one of six students from 400 to serve as a student representative on the regional rules and ethics committee.
With three more regional horse shows to go, Pirtle's honest, direct approach to life will be missed, Sanchez said. "I would liked to have had the opportunity to put Patrick in whenever I needed his skills and experience. He was a strong competitor."
Sanchez said he not only lost a top rider, but also a friend who was like a brother. "Now, I can tell my 2-year-old son, who really loved Patrick, that he has a guardian angel watching over him."
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