Equestrian hosts Regionals, ultimately send two to Nationals
Before his sophomore summer, David Cordero ’16 could count on one hand the number of times he had ridden a horse. On Sunday, he represented Dartmouth’s equestrian team at Zones, one step below the national stage.
Cordero is one of a record 12 Big Green riders who competed at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Zone 1, Region 2 Championship on April 2 at Dartmouth’s Morton Farm. Five of those riders went on to represent the Big Green at Zones this past weekend by placing first or second in their class at Regionals. In IHSA competition, riders compete at eight divisions: Walk Trot, Walk Trot Canter, Novice Flat, Novice Fences, Intermediate Flat, Intermediate Fences, Open Flat and Open Fences. Riders earn points for their performances at shows throughout their collegiate career. Once a rider accumulates enough points in one class — 28 for open, the highest level, and 36 for the other classes — that rider qualifies to compete at Regionals.
In the April 3 Regionals show, Dartmouth’s equestrians rode against the best competition they faced in the regular season. To make things even more difficult, judges had free rein to challenge the riders by asking them to do difficult tests.
The tests, tailored to riders’ skill levels, range from knowledge and horsemanship questions to particular demonstrations of skill.
“If the judge has difficulty deciding between riders or if she wants to challenge them a bit more, she will bring them back into the ring and ask for a shortened course,” Olivia Champ ’19 said. “We’re not allowed to talk to the coach, so it’s all about the rider having to decode what the judge wants us to do and it’s always very technical.”
Much of the equestrian team’s spring break was spent preparing for challenges like those they would encounter at Regionals and Zones. The team fled frigid Dartmouth for Ocala, Florida, traveling to a renowned thoroughbred center where the riders trained at Kimberden Farm under trainer Kim Burnette.
“It was really awesome to get away from Hanover winter, go to Florida and ride really nice horses in the sunshine and get to hear another instructor,” Cordero said.
In collegiate competition, riders are randomly assigned to a horse at each show. Over break, the team spent their time in Florida learning how to assess and adjust their styles to the different kinds of horses they could be assigned to ride in a meet.
Upon returning to Hanover, the team had a clinic with C.J. Law, the head coach from three-time IHSA national champion Mount Holyoke College and worked out with the horses every day to make up for the riders’ absence.
Familiarity with the horses gave Dartmouth a home field advantage of sorts at Regionals. Many of the horses used in the competition were Dartmouth’s own, so Big Green riders were acquainted with their quirks and dispositions.
Those dispositions can make some horses easier to ride than others. Certain riders look for particular traits.
“I tend to like a horse that goes more forward,” Catherine Conway ’17 said. “I don’t really like to have to inspire the horse and drive it forward the entire time. I would rather have a more forward horse and balance it and bring it back.”
Champ prefers something slightly different.
“Something I look for is that they’re happy to be doing their job, and that they’re willing and they want to listen and they want to try,” Champ said of her mounts. “Regardless of whether they’re super bouncy or a little bit stiff to one side, if they are willing to work with me, and they’re excited to be doing what they are doing, it makes it that much better.”
Lindsay Seewald ’16 advanced to Zones in two classes by placing second in the Intermediate Flat class and winning the Intermediate Fences.
Seewald survived a difficult ride-off to win her large Intermediate Fences class at Regionals. She also competed in the Intermediate Flat, where she pulled a relatively new horse that she had been working with frequently during practices, a lucky pairing that Champ thought helped Seewald stand out.
Champ competed in both Open Fences and Open Flat against the University of Vermont’s Alex Carlton, the only other rider to qualify in the two classes. Champ was also recognized as the region’s Cacchione Cup Reserve Champion for accumulating the second-most points throughout the season.
“I’m always impressed with Olivia’s riding,” Cordero said of Champ’s performance. “She just rides horses so well and so confidently but also without it being in your face.”
Champ finished second in the Open Flat and won the Open Fences at Regionals.
Conway, who placed second in Novice Fences, and Cristiana Salvatori ’17, with a second-place ribbon in Walk Trot Canter, also moved on to Zones.
Cordero, competing in Walk Trot, was the last rider of the day. Despite picking up riding midway through college, he says his time in the saddle gave him the edge over his competitors at Regionals.
“I feel at this point I am more experienced to the point where I can work on more detailed things instead of the bare basics,” he said. “The things that I’m working on are small things, like making sure that my wrists are not too bent, or making sure that my elbows are close enough to my body, or making sure my shoulders are back.”
The judges concurred, awarding Cordero a blue ribbon for first place along with the opportunity to compete at Zones.
“It was a cool moment for myself to see all the hard work that I’ve been putting in over the past two years learning to ride at Dartmouth, working with horses, learning about horses, and be like, ‘Yeah, you won your region — awesome,’” Cordero said.
At the Zone 1 Championship — held Saturday at Mount Holyoke College — 10 riders in each class sought to finish in the top two, earning a trip to Kentucky in May for Nationals. For three of the Big Green equestrians, the journey ended at Zones. Salvatori placed seventh, Champ took fifth in the Fences and third in the Flat, and Cordero finished fifth. Seewald and Conway both finished as Reserve Champions and will ride individually at the IHSA National Championships.