Equestrian team to host and compete in regional show

by Sabena Allen | 3/31/17 12:25am

Dartmouth’s equestrian team is sending 11 riders, nearly half of the entire roster, to compete at the Regional Championship this Sunday, April 2, at Morton Farm. The competition was pushed back one day due to an impending storm.

At regionals, the team members will compete individually, where the top two in each class will advance to the Zone Championships on April 8 and will vie to qualify for the National Championships on May 4 to 7. The Ivy Championship will be hosted by Cornell University on April 23.

“I hope that we get a good showing, and of course I’m hoping that some get through from zones to nationals,” head coach Sally Batton said. “But that’s really hard. There are 12 riders at each class at zones. It’s the top riders from all of New England, and traditionally, New England is one of the toughest zones in the whole country.”

Dartmouth’s 11 athletes will compete in 10 different classes at regionals, representing the largest number of qualified riders from any team in the region, according to Batton.

In Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition, regular-season performances contribute points to a rider’s running total — seven points for a win, five points for second and four points for third. Once a rider reaches 36 points in her discipline, or 28 points in the case of the open class, she “classes up,” moving from intermediate to novice or novice to open, and automatically qualifies for regionals.

The team returns from a spring training trip in Florida, where riders trained with well-known trainer Kim Burnette, who also works with private clients and the University of Florida team. At the facility in Ocala, the Big Green riders had a chance to ride a number of well-bred horses, a change from the 10 horses Dartmouth has at Morton Farm.

“Here at the farm, we basically get the winter off,” Batton said. “The farm is six miles from campus, but it’s kind of a world away because it’s up a mountain. Between the snow and the cold temperatures, my athletes pretty much have the winter off, so it’s good to go down and get trained in the warmer weather and on some really nice horses.”

In previous years, the season has been split into fall and spring with one final regular-season show in the spring. This year, in order to avoid practicing and competing in unfavorable winter weather, all shows in the region occurred during a five-week period in October and November. The demanding schedule included three weekends of back-to-back shows, a format Batton said was tiring to all teams. After this season’s experiment, the schedule will return to normal during the 2017-2018 season, with seven fall regular-season shows and an additional one in the spring.

The equestrian team had a strong fall season during which it narrowly lost the regional title to the University of Vermont. Although the Big Green did not have a victory in the first half of the season, the team hit its stride midseason, finishing with four consecutive wins.

Erin McCarthy-Keeler ’19 attributed the improvement to the adjustment period for the team’s seven new riders. In college riding, teams must ride horses provided by the host school, instead of showing with their own horses.

“Especially for riders coming in from non-college riding, it’s a pretty big adjustment, because even the most beautiful rider can get put on really terrible little ponies,” McCarthy-Keeler said. “Our new riders had to adjust to that, and then once they were able to do that, and once we started figuring out who should be representing us in terms of the team points, it kind of settled in more.”

Among the team’s standouts in the fall were Olivia Champ ’19 and Sophie Lenihan ’20. Champ won the region as high point rider, qualifying her for nationals, where she will compete with the best riders in the nation for the Cacchione Cup. Lenihan qualified for regionals in open fences, an impressive feat for a first year. As one of two riders who qualified for regionals in open fences, Lenihan will automatically move on to zones.

Other star performances in the fall season came from Storey Dyer Kloman ’17 and Cristiana Salvatori ’17, who racked up team points in the novice class. Both will look to continue their success at Sunday’s championship.

Although regionals is an individual competition, there is still a strong team mentality, according to McCarthy-Keeler.

“The farthest we get in the competitions is usually on an individual basis,” she said. “When one of us gets ahead, it’s still a big moment for the team.”

Hosting the competition poses another challenge for the team. Dartmouth’s riders run the show by keeping score, caring for horses, making announcements and calling in riders. Not all team members will be riding, McCarthy-Keeler said, making the show easier to manage.

“It’s definitely an asset because we get to use some of our own horses, but I think that for this show in particular we are only using four of our own, and we are still bringing in a lot [of horses],” Salvatori said. “So it ends up, in terms of riding our own horses, [that] it’s not going to be a huge advantage. It’s definitely [somewhat of an advantage] because we do know some of the horses, and we know some of the ones that are coming.”

Batton said she is optimistic about the show on Sunday, and Dartmouth is in a good position to qualify riders for the Zone Championship, which will be held in South Hadley, Massachusetts.