Equestrian succeeds at Nationals

by Kourtney Kawano | 5/4/15 6:01pm

After placing second in individual novice fences at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Zone 1 Championship at Mount Holyoke College nearly a month ago, Meaghan Haugh ’17 qualified for a spot in the coming IHSA National Championships in West Springfield, Massachusetts for the second consecutive year.

Since her performance at zone competitions, Haugh said she has practiced at least once or twice each day in preparation and rode different horses in anticipation of the draw at nationals. The Big Green rider has seen other success this season as well, placing fourth in both intermediate fences and intermediate flat at the Ivy League Championship two weeks ago to help the equestrian team claim second place.

This past Thursday, Haugh ended the equestrian season with a seventh-place finish in the individual category for novice fences at the IHSA Nationals competition. This marked the second time Haugh participated in the national competition, but the first time she competed as an individual rider. Last year, Haugh competed in the team category for novice flat and fences events and placed eighth and fourth, respectively, helping Dartmouth to finish 10th in the Collegiate Cup Hunter Seat level.

Competing in the individual category, Haugh said, was less stressful than competing in the team category.

“I think it was a lot more pressure competing for the team because it wasn’t just for me,” Haugh said.

In 2014, the individual category for novice fences featured only 10 competitors, but this year saw Haugh pitted against a field of 15 other riders, making it an even greater challenge to come away with a victory.

This year’s field, Haugh said, was extremely competitive, with a lot of the fellow riders earning impressive scores.

As the 15th rider to enter the ring, Haugh said she knew her competitors’ scores and where she placed after hearing her score when she finished.

“I was really happy with how I rode,” Haugh said. “I laid down a trip that was probably the best of the season.”

Anna Knowles ’16 and Nathalie Ferneau ’18 also qualified for nationals after earning the top two scores in the nation in the first phase of the Teresa L. McDonald IHSA Scholarship Challenge. Founded by McDonald in 2010, an IHSA coach who passed away in 2014, the first phase of the program focuses on the administration and completion of a timed exam with 50 questions that test undergraduate IHSA members’ knowledge of stable management and general equestrian knowledge.

Like Haugh, Knowles and Ferneau qualified for the trip to Springfield. They competed in Saturday’s practicum phase of the McDonald Scholarship Challenge.

For this phase, Knowles said two judges asked seven or eight questions each and the two needed to demonstrate practical skills and knowledge about topics such as horse care and equine anatomy.

After completing their respective practicums, Knowles and Ferneau needed to wait before the IHSA announced this year’s top winners. The national winner is determined by combining the score from the written exam with the scores from the practicum phase. The individual with the top combined score receives a perpetual trophy and a scholarship for $1,500.

Ferneau said she and Knowles were confident after the practicum, particularly because of how well they both did on the written exam. In last year’s challenge, the IHSA posted the competitors’ scores before giving the awards whereas in this year’s competition, the sponsoring organization did not post scores before announcing the winners, Knowles added.

“We had to stand on the side of the ring as the announcers kept counting down without saying our names so it was kind of exciting,” Knowles said.

In the 2014 scholarship challenge, Knowles placed second in the nation with a combined score of 275 points, winning a $1,000 scholarship. This year, she once again faced 15 of the nation’s top scorers who successfully passed more than 10,000 individuals in the written phase. This time, though, she earned the highest score and won the national title while Ferneau earned second place and the title of reserve national champion.

Ferneau said it was exciting to earn the top spots because of the amount of time she and Knowles spent preparing for the challenge.

“It felt great knowing our work paid off,” Ferneau said.

Knowles and Ferneau’s one-two finish gives the Big Green’s equestrian program its first national championship.

Knowles said as a former member of the United States Pony Club, which emphasizes horse knowledge, it feels very satisfying to win the challenge.

“I don’t have the most consistent show record, so it’s nice to be able to use another of my strengths within the context of horses,” Knowles said

Although the equestrian team’s season ended two weeks ago at the Ivy Championships, some members of the team continue to ride in their free time and are already looking forward to competing again next year.

“I think we’re being taken a lot more seriously on campus and by the athletic department, and that makes us all want to do better and be more competitive,” Haugh said. “I think we’re on track for another successful season.”