Equestrian finishes in sixth place at UNH

by Evan Morgan | 3/6/16 6:30pm

The equestrian team was back in the saddle on Saturday at the University of New Hampshire, competing for the first time since they concluded its fall stint in November. The Big Green placed sixth out of 12 schools who competed in Saturday’s show. Dartmouth equestrian enjoyed modest success in its seven fall shows, winning at Middlebury College and Colby-Sawyer College and placing third in three more shows.

“We have a young team this year — probably half the team is new riders — so a lot of my returning riders did really well and rode well and worked hard, and our new riders had a bit of a learning curve figuring out intercollegiate riding,” head coach Sally Batton said. “They all really rose to the occasion and had a lot of good individual placings in the fall.”

Big Green riders and horses rested during December and January, when New England’s winter weather keeps the horses cooped up inside.

“The horses haven’t been practicing, we haven’t been practicing, so it’s kind of a slow process getting everything back up and running,” Olivia Champ ’19 said.

Riders began training again in February, but conditions often did not work in the team’s favor. Batton said that even though the weather was milder this year than last, the team could still only hold a limited number of practices.

“It is very tough for us to ride in February,” Batton said. “We have to cancel practices if it’s below 15 degrees or if the roads [to Morton Farm] are bad. So we hardly had any practice at all. Maybe in the past two weeks we might have had three practices.”

Some riders were able to jump in just one practice before the show, while others could not jump at all.

Unfamiliar mounts added a further degree of difficulty to the competition. As at every away show, horses at the UNH show were provided by the host school and assigned randomly to visiting riders.

“You have just a couple seconds to figure it out, and hopefully you read the horse right to give them the ride that they need,” Claire Bick ’18 said. “You’re in the dark when you go in the ring.”

The weather and the unfamiliarity both played into Saturday’s show.

“Horses get a little excited when it’s cold, in general, and some of their usual dependable standbys were bucking a little bit in the show,” Batton said.

Despite the adverse conditions, several Big Green riders impressed at the UNH Equine Center.

The team is absent its regular point riders in the walk/trot class, who are off this winter. In their stead, Holly Langley ’19 won the walk/trot, her first blue ribbon as an intercollegiate rider.

“She really had the pressure on her, and she not only did well but she won her class,” Batton said. “It’s her first time winning all year, and she did it when her points counted for the team, so that was really exciting.”

Additionally, Anna Knowles ’16 took first in the intermediate flat, and Sarah Cohen ’18 bested her competition to take first in cross-rail equitation.

Champ has been a force all year long, and on Saturday she reinforced her position as the second-place rider in the region. Champ finished second in open fences and first in open flat, entering her in a ride-off for reserve high point rider, a separate competition to determine the second-best rider of all 12 teams at the show. Champ emerged from the ride-off victorious.

Bick and Batton noted that Champ and Cohen’s performances were all the more notable because both drew difficult horses.

Dartmouth entered Saturday’s show sitting in third place in the region, trailing second place UNH by just two points. The team’s goal had been to best UNH on the Wildcats’ home turf and move into second place to claim the title of regional Team Reserve Champion.

The show “didn’t pan out quite as we had hoped,” Bick said, as the Big Green finished in sixth place and did not gain the two points necessary to pass UNH. Saturday’s show concludes the equestrian team’s regular season.

Though the team as a whole will not move on to regionals, Dartmouth riders enjoyed unprecedented individual success this season.

Collegiate equestrian teams compete in both the fall and spring. Individual riders accumulate points in both stretches of the season, aiming to qualify for higher levels of competition — regionals, zones and nationals — in April and May.

A record-setting 12 Dartmouth riders, nearly half the team, scored enough points this season to qualify for regionals. They will represent Dartmouth in all eight divisions: walk/trot, walk/trot/canter, novice, intermediate and open fences and flat.

“We had kind of a combination of good riders and awesome individual seasons in the fall, and there were a lot of us who were on the brink of having enough points to qualify for regionals coming into the start of the fall season,” Bick said. “A lot of us showed up really well individually and performed really well in the fall, so a ton of riders ended up qualifying.”

The Big Green riders will get a reprieve from the chilly New England weather in the form of a spring break trip to Florida.

“That will be a great time for them to get on horses they really don’t know,” Batton said. “They’re going to ride with a different trainer down there, and I’ll be there kind of supervising, but it will be a really great experience for them for somebody else to be looking at them and watching them and seeing what they need to work on.”

When the team returns from Florida, it will have a short time to train for IHSA Regionals, which will be held April 3 at the Dartmouth’s own Morton Farm.

Champ said that Saturday’s performance is a signal that many individual Big Green riders are preparing well for regionals.

“We’re really all kind of on the right track, and our work is really showing itself in how well we’re doing,” Champ said. “Continuing to support each other makes such a huge difference in how we perform.”

Bick stressed that individual success this season was more than just a silver lining to the team’s overall performance.

“Equestrian sports tend to keep you really humble because you never really know what you’re going to get from the horses,” Bick said. “It teaches you to understand that there are other ways to succeed, and the individual success is just as important as the team as a whole.”