Centenary Stakes Its Claim At IHSA Nationals

May 22, 2011 - 7:00 PM
Kara Berglund Photo

There was really only one word that could be used to describe Centenary College’s performance at the Intercol-legiate Horse Show Association National Championship: dominant.

The Centenary equestrian team, which topped the championship in 2009 and tied for the reserve last year, grabbed an early lead and never looked back during the May 5-8 competition held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. They placed no worse than third in six of the eight classes that comprise the annual Collegiate Cup.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s action, Centenary had already taken an 8-point lead ahead of Skidmore College (N.Y.) and St. Andrews Presbyterian College (N.C.). They didn’t win any of the Collegiate Cup classes that day, but they earned 15 points from solid performances out of three riders.

Natasha Klingenstein, Brendan Wil-liams and Jessica Pabst earned 5 apiece by placing second in their respective divisions. Coaches Michael Dowling and Heather Clark weren’t surprised by the solid performances.

“We have a really cohesive team,” said Dowling. Klingenstein, a junior, was one of the stars of the Collegiate Cup competition, as she topped Thursday’s performance and took the blue in the intermediate equitation over fences.

Though it was her first time at Nationals, Klingenstein was accustomed to the pressure of the show ring because she competed in hunters, jumpers and equitation before attending Centenary. The 22-year-old ventured far from her Torrance, Calif., home to enroll in Centenary’s equine studies program.

“California had good [equine studies programs], but I felt like Centenary would be a better fit,” she said.

After a brief transition, Klingenstein felt positive that she’d made the right choice.

“Everybody was so welcoming, so now I feel like I’m at home,” she said. Saturday morning began with a disappointing ride from freshman Kathryn Haley in the team open equitation over fences. But the 18-year-old still had the team open hunter seat equi-tation on the flat to ride, and she was determined to add points to Centenary’s score.

“I had a little blooper in my jumping round, so I was nervous to come back and redeem myself,” said Haley, Orchard Park, N.Y. Judges Bob Crandall and Kim Dorf-man quickly weeded out the weaker riders in the flat class, and they asked the top 10 to remain in the ring for additional testing without stirrups.

At the end of the class, Haley received the top call.

“I was expecting [to have to drop my stirrups]. It’s a tough class, and everyone is so good, so they need a way to narrow it down,” she said.

Haley also went on to win the individual class, making her two for two in equitation on the flat. Like many of the Centenary riders, Haley attributed her success to riding without stirrups prior to Nationals, something that Dowling and Clark require.

“We work a lot without stirrups on the flat, and last week we had a jumping lesson without stirrups, and that was very difficult,” said Dowling. That hard work throughout the season also contributed to Centenary’s accomplishments outside the team portion of Nationals.

In addition to Haley, two other Centenary riders were victorious in individual equitation classes. Junior Brittany Cunnane, who took the blue in the individual intermediate equitation on the flat, said it was no coincidence that their team had such strong flat riders this year.

“Michael and Heather have gotten us really strong,” she noted. “We have had some pretty strenuous lessons.”

But even Julie Connors, who hasn’t been training with the team since her graduation in January, continued the winning trend. Connors, of Hebron, Conn., topped the individual novice equitation over fences,

 “I wasn’t at school like everyone else, but I rode as much as I could!” she said.

A Long Time Coming

Haley, Cunanne and Connors had plenty of time in the spotlight at Nationals, but one Centenary star shone brighter than all the others. Winning the prestigious U.S. Equestrian Federation/Cacchione Cup was the icing on the cake of Marissa Cohen’s intercollegiate career.

With her riding experience and past results at Nationals, it seemed as though the 22-year-old was being groomed for eventual Cacchione Cup success since enrolling as a freshman. Cohen, now a senior, rode in the national championship each of her four years.

She won the team intermediate equitation over fences in 2009 and the individual intermediate equitation over fences in 2010. But her riding career goes back much further than her years in IHSA. Cohen grew up riding hunters and jumpers at Low Key Farm in West Chester, Pa., where her mother, Gaye Goldeman Cohen, is the trainer. But even with a history of riding a variety of horses, Marissa admitted she still gets nervous at the thought of riding a horse based on a random draw.

“I get more nervous for horse draw than anything else, but this was the first time I’ve been able to sleep. It’s better when I don’t over think it,” she said.

But Marissa didn’t have anything to worry about in Kentucky. Though she won neither phase of the two-class competition, her solid scores of 82.5 and 87.0 combined for a total of 169.5, half a point ahead of second-placed Shelby Wakeman of New York University. And the win couldn’t have been better timed.

“I rode for my mom, and this is prob-ably the best Mother’s Day gift ever for her,” Marissa added. The win signified much more than another blue ribbon to add to the collection.

“I think it means the most that everyone around me has been so supportive, and they’ve helped me come to this point. [The Cacchione Cup] is a tribute to them,” said Marissa, who’s a Centenary team captain. Though she enjoys riding and competing, Marissa is uncertain whether she will follow in her mother’s footsteps and make a career of it.

“Right now, I’m going to go to school to get my masters in business administration and finish out my business program and continue riding. We have a lot of sales horses and green horses for clients, so we’re going to work through that,” she said.

One thing is certain though: Her team will miss her greatly.

“She has very much been an integral part of our infrastructure,” said Dowling.

“And it was thrilling that she won the Cacchione Cup at her last show for us.”

Hospital To Horseback In 12 Hours

Winning the individual open equitation over fences on opening day of Nationals made it official—Ali Cibon now holds a blue ribbon for four over fences titles at IHSA National Championships. The 22-year-old has claimed one each year since she began riding for the University of Kentucky in 2008.

“I felt like it was a big accomplishment,” said Cibon, who also won at the intermediate level her first two years and then moved into the open division.

“My freshman year going to Nationals, I went in to try my best, and ever since then I’ve just strived to help the team out. Winning a national title four years is one of the most exciting things to have happened to me.”

Cibon, Brannockburn, Ill., was having some serious doubts on the Wednes-day before the competition about her ability to accomplish that feat. Instead of preparing for the show, she found herself staring at the ceiling from a hospital bed.

“I had a major blood clot, and I haven’t ridden at all this past week because I’ve been getting infrared therapy on it three times a day,” she explained.

Despite being in pain and having to spend much of her weekend with her leg propped up and on ice, Cibon pulled off her team captain duties and returned to the ring several other times as well. She secured the red ribbon on Saturday in the Collegiate Cup open equitation over fences, tacking 5 points onto her team’s score and helping them to fifth place. Their 11 total points tied them with Bridgewater College (Va.).

Cibon attributed her success as an intercollegiate rider to her coaches, Michelle Zimmer of the University of Kentucky and Elaine Schott, of Ver-sailles, Ky., with whom she trains her personal horse for the amateur-owner hunters.

“Michelle and Elaine work really well together,” Cibon said.

“They have both really helped me improve. And they’re more than trainers really—they’re both like second moms!”

Although Cibon will spend one more year in Lexington to finish up her agricultural economics major and business minor, she’s ridden out her IHSA eligibility. For the Cibon family, this marks the end of a six-year relationship with IHSA. Cibon’s sister Kati was a four-time USEF/Cacchione Cup competitor and a 2009 graduate of Ohio University.

“Riding in the IHSA was a great experience for me. It made me a better rider—it’s very hard to just jump on a horse and go out and ride a perfect round,” Cibon said.

“It opens you up to a whole new world.”

A Sentimental Win

She’d never received any formal riding instruction prior to college, but Paulina Erni knew when she finished high school that she wanted to be a part of an intercollegiate team.

“I really wanted to ride in college. That was what I was looking for. It was my reason for coming to Mount Holy-oke,” said Erni, Cresskill, N.J. Fast-forward to the end of her sophomore year, and Erni found herself standing in the winner’s circle after the Col-legiate Cup walk-trot hunter seat equitation.

While Erni was happy to contri-bute points to the team’s score, which ultimately helped them secure the third-placed honors, the Mount Holyoke (Mass.) team had memories, not numbers, on their mind as the awards presentation began. The walk-trot trophy was presented in memory of Michelle Cook, a former Mount Holyoke student and rider who was killed by a drunk driver. Cook’s mother Marilyn and brother Bryan joined Mount Holyoke coach C.J. Law to award the trophy to Erni. Michelle Cook was a member of the 1986 team that won the IHSA National Championship. She was killed just a few weeks before Nationals the following year.

Law made sure that her legacy would live on, and at the 1987 Nationals in Indianapolis (Ind.), Marilyn Cook presented the Michelle Cook Memorial Trophy for the first time. Since the IHSA Nationals are hosted by a different venue each year, Marilyn has been unable to present the trophy for several years. She and Bryan, both Louisville, Ky., residents, were thrilled to not only be in attendance this year, but also award the trophy to a Mount Holyoke rider.

“I’m so happy. [Michelle] loved that team, and she loved C.J., and she loved horses,” Marilyn said.


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