One-on-one with Sophia Kocher '21
Sophia Kocher ’21 set a Dartmouth equestrian record this past Saturday at Middlebury College, tallying up a perfect 42 points in her first six shows and becoming the first Dartmouth rider to go undefeated at every regular season competition. Her distinguished performance elevates her from the Advanced Walk Trot Canter class to the Novice Flat and Fences class while also qualifying her for Regionals. The equestrian team is off to a 2-0 start, in large part due to Kocher’s seven points earned in each week’s victory. The Dartmouth sat down for a one-on-one discussion with Kocher about her equestrian career, her path to Dartmouth and more.
What was your experience with equestrian prior to coming to Dartmouth?
SK: I’ve always been interested in and loved horses, but I had never actually formally competed. I mostly just rode for fun growing up. My family lives on a farm, so I had two horses, and we have a small ring. Most of where I rode growing up was at my house with trainers who would come and coach me, but mostly it’s just been something that I love to do.
Having competed competitively now, what would you say are some of your favorite aspects of the sport?
SK: I just love being with the horses, and it’s such a unique experience to be sort of teammates with an animal that you can’t really communicate with verbally. Something that’s unique to the way that college competitions are is that you’re competing as an individual, but you’re also scoring points for your team. I’ve really loved the team atmosphere and having a group of people who were all equally passionate.
Did you know that you wanted to do equestrian when you came to Dartmouth? How did you end up joining the team?
SK: When I toured, I heard about it, so I had known about it coming in initially. That piqued my interest, so I emailed the coach, and I went up to see the barn. It’s just gorgeous up there. That’s really when I got interested in it and started thinking about it a little bit after my visit and into the summer before I applied.
How does it feel with this year being longtime coach Sally Batton’s last season?
SK: It’s definitely very sad because Sally is just a wonderful coach, and she has dedicated so much to the program and making the team where it is. It was a club sport, and she brought it to the varsity level. I think that we’re all sad and we’re all going to miss her, and I think she is going to be difficult to replace as someone who has been so committed to the team for so long. For a lot of us, this year is about gratitude, so we’re trying to give back to Sally. I think one of our goals is to make it to Nationals this year. We were super close last year — we were about a point away, so I think this year we really want to send Sally out with a bang.
Why did you choose to come to Dartmouth?
SK: I grew up ski racing, and I ski raced in the area at the skiway with a little team from the town of Hanover. I’ve loved the New Hampshire area for a long time, and when I got here, I felt like there was such a sense of place that was really important to me. I think people are super passionate about the College and they’re super passionate about everything that it represents. I really loved that, and you can definitely see that in the students and the people giving tours. The people you talk to are so connected to the school, even years out. For a place to have that much of an impact on people, there’s got to be something super special about it.
It’s rare that someone competes so prominently in one sport in high school, and then competes in a different varsity sport when they get to college. Can you talk a bit about your skiing career before coming here?
SK: Skiing is something that’s pretty instrumental to my family. My mom ski raced growing up, and I have four younger siblings, so we all ski race. That’s something we do every winter: we wake up at 5 in the morning and go to the mountain. That’s been such a large part of my life, so it’s definitely weird not having it anymore, but I’ve found I really love having a team environment and having a group of people that I can connect with. I would definitely say that having the equestrian team has been such a great part of my college experience, and one of the things I love most about Dartmouth. I do think that there are a lot of things in ski racing that you can transfer into riding. For example, with both skiing and riding, you put in so many more hours of preparation than you actually compete. With skiing, you’re on course for two minutes, and for riding you’re in the ring for five minutes, but you’re practicing every single day for multiple hours per day. I think that mentality of having to put in so much work for such little output is definitely something that’s similar. There’s a lot of the same routine like getting ready, getting mentally ready so that has definitely carried over for me.
How does it feel to record a perfect 42 points in your six shows and become the first member of Dartmouth equestrian to win at every single regular season competition?
SK: I definitely think it’s an honor. I’m proud of it, but I was never really focused on my individual performance. I feel like I was always more concerned with, “I want to do well so the team does well and can do well at Regionals.” That was more of what I was focused on. It’s been awesome.
What does the DartmouthSports.com Athlete of the Week award mean to you?
SK: I would say again that it’s a huge honor to be represented with a group of incredible athletes. Because we’re not a mainstream sport, I feel like I can both represent myself and the program, so I’m really thankful to be able to do that.
Your performance on Saturday secured a spot for you at Regionals and helped you class up to the Novice Flat and Fences Level. What does that entail for the rest of the season, and how do you feel about the opportunity?
SK: It’s definitely exciting because if I place well in Regionals, that could qualify me for Zones and then potentially Nationals later in the season. It’s something I’m looking forward to and working for. I’m in a higher division, so it’s obviously going to be a little bit more competitive; I’m going to be with some more experienced riders, so it will definitely be more of a challenge, but it’s very exciting.
You talked about your goals when we were talking about Coach Batton. What are some of the team goals for the season, and where are you hoping to get to?
SK: One of our main goals is to get to Nationals. You go through a series of competitions, and for all of the shows that we compete in, we get game points for how well individuals do in their classes. If we have the highest among all of the schools in our region, then we qualify to move to Zones, which is more of New England: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts. If we do well there, we will qualify to compete in Nationals. That’s definitely the main goal of the team. Other goals are always to build a cohesive group and to really support each other.
Could you share any other personal goals for the season?
SK: In my previous division, I did a lot of flatwork, so I’m working more over fences now, and I’m going to start competing in that. One of my goals is to improve in that regard.
What do you do outside of equestrian in terms of academics and extracurriculars?
SK: I’m interested in medicine, specifically global health, and I’m currently undecided in my major. I have a bunch of different academic interests: classics, art history and environmental science, so I’m still exploring and hoping to settle on a department in the near future. In addition to riding, I’m on ski patrol, so I do still ski, which is great. I love getting out in the winter, being on snow and being with a group of people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.