The Savannah College of Art and Design might have been considered a shoo-in to pick up their fourth consecutive, and seventh total, Affiliated National Riding Commission National Champion-ship. They were fielding a team of experienced horses and riders, and they had the home court advantage for the championships, held April 14-17 at SCAD in Hardeeville, S.C.
But SCAD coach Andrea Wells explained that it didn’t quite work like that.
“We weren’t actually riding as much as we should have [since we were hosting],” she said. “Mostly we spent a lot of time moving jumps, painting and decorating. We were a little ill-prepared, riding-wise.”
But you wouldn’t have known it from the riders’ performances. Despite all the time spent on the ground instead of in the saddle, the SCAD teammates pulled together for a win over Centenary College (N.J.) and Virginia Intermont College. SCAD competitor Kels Bonham also earned her third individual title (85.18 points) over teammate Henrietta Armstrong (84.07) and Centenary College’s Katie Haley (83.93).
Bonham, 20, on Cover Charge, Paul Frederick, 21, on Kino B and Caroline Ingalls, 20, on Lazio, rode on the team, while Lydia Todd, 18, on Sculpture and Armstrong, 22, on Monarch filled out the individual spots.
“I think we have some really talented riders who are consistent and are able to handle the pressure of the competition and stay consistent through all the phases,” said Wells.
Several SCAD competitors are veterans of previous teams, including Bonham, Armstrong, Frederick and the horse Sculpture, who was retired after completing his ninth championship this year. That experience helped the team cope with the unique challenges of the ANRC Championship, where riders complete a written test, dressage sportif (a dressage test that integrates jumps), hunter trials (a hunter trip over an outdoor course with natural obstacles) and a medal round.
The dressage sportif counts for 40 percent of the overall score, the hunter trials 30 percent and the medal round 30 percent. If riders don’t score at least 70 on the written phase, points are deducted from them in the riding phases.
This was Frederick’s fourth year riding on the SCAD team. The senior from Hopewell, Va., was thrilled about finishing his college career with another title.
“Being a part of ANRC team is always a great feeling,” he said.
“It’s great to help carry on the tradition.”
Winning the competition requires not only well-rounded riders but also versatile horses, according to Wells.
“It takes a special horse,” she said. “It takes a horse with quality, a show horse, one that wants to bedazzle people. To do the lengthenings and to get the high scores in dressage, it has to be well broke on the flat and has to have a soft enough mouth to do dressage in a plain snaffle. It takes a horse that likes to be in the field and is brave and will jump natural obstacles. Finally, it takes a horse that’s educated enough to do a regular Maclay-type round in the area. It’s not for every horse, definitely.”
Bonham Bounces Back Bonham’s weekend didn’t start perfectly—she was eighth after the written test and knew she’d have to catch up during the dressage sportif, the phase she was most worried about.
“I was a little nervous about the dressage, but it went very well. I was very lucky to get to ride [Cover Charge]. He was really pleasant and tries so hard,” said the junior from Eolia, Mo.
Cover Charge, a 17-year-old Hano-verian (Contender—Sabrina) owned by Don Stewart, is currently leased out
to Emma Wilson, a client of Wells’. The Wilson family loaned him to Bonham for ANRC.
Bonham said he was foot-perfect in all three phases, though he did pull one rail in the medal section, knocking him out of the top 10 for that particular phase. Their third place in the dressage sportif and first in the hunter trials carried them through to win in the national division.
“I love the format,” Bonham said. “I think it’s great even though sometimes it’s a hassle to get the time in to study for the written test. But I think it’s impor-tant people know common horse things.
“The dressage sportif is really effective, and it gives everyone a fair shot to be seen,” she continued. “I think the hunter trials is fun and brings it back to what hunt seat equitation is all about, riding at a forward pace over natural fences. Then the medal brings it all together. I think it kind of encompasses everything in a nice way.”
Bonham is no stranger to big competitions—she won the 2008 USEF Medal Final—and even though she was defending her title, she wasn’t feeling the pressure before the ANRC Championships.
“I’m lucky because I have a very extended show résumé,” she said.
“I go into it a little less nervous and intimi-dated because I’ve done quite a bit. Sometimes I get a little nervous because I’m on a team and want to do well for them. SCAD overall really strives to be excellent in everything they do. We make sure we get our horses as good as possible and make sure everyone is matched with the best possible horse. We always try to prepare correctly every day. I feel like we do everything we can to go in there ready to try to win.
“It’s a little unexpected to win again!” Bonham added. “Every year I go in and say, ‘I don’t know if I can do it again.’ This year it was close. There were a lot of good people. My rail in the last round didn’t give me much breathing room, but I just managed to eke it out. I’m relieved about that.”
Midway Makes A Long Trip Worth It
For the first time in the ANRC Cham-pionship’s eight-year history, a novice division was held alongside the national section. While the novice riders also completed a written test, dressage sportif, hunter trials and medal phase, the fences were all set at 2’6″ instead of 3’0″.
“We wanted to get new schools to try it and thought it was a way to grow the organization,” said Wells.
“We thought maybe some schools were intimidated because it takes such a special horse. We thought if we made it 2’6″, they might try it. We got the University of Georgia and Midway College [Ky.], and they were delightful to have and did a beautiful job for their first time ever doing it.”
Midway College students had a 13-hour haul from Kentucky, but they made the trip worthwhile by picking up the team championship. Twins Allison and Erinn Born also earned individual awards, grabbing first and second place, respectively.
“It was a big surprise,” said Midway coach Carrie Dahmer.
“The girls just rose to the occasion and kept learning throughout the whole competition. When I got permission from the school and started thinking about a trip, I thought even the novice division might be over their heads, but they needed to get out there and see some things. So they studied hard, worked on tests at home, and they really pulled it together.”
The team—consisting of Allison, 20, on Sweet Talk, Erinn, 20, on Redstone and Kalena Richards, 20, on Red Red Wine—was fifth after the written test.
“After they didn’t do so well on the written test, they came back and said, ‘OK, we have to do well on the
next parts.’ Each time they got on a horse, they got better. I couldn’t have asked for more from them,” said Dahmer.
Midway won the dressage sportif, placed second in the hunter trials and won the medal phase, sealing their fate as the team division winner with 161.69 points. Second-placed Virginia Inter-mont College earned 146.22 points, and SCAD’s novice team was close behind with 144.57.
Allison placed first individually in the dressage sportif, hunter trials and medal round to get her win with 83.56 points over Erinn (74.68) and Virginia Inter-mont’s Bailey Cone (74.08).
Even though Erinn and Allison, sophomores from Carmel, Ind., were competing against each other as well as on the team together, they said sibling rivalry never came into play.
“We both just hope that each other does well,” Erinn said. “We don’t compete against each other too often, and it doesn’t matter which one wins when we do.”
“For me, the most difficult was probably the dressage phase, because it’s hard for me to remember that much stuff,” said Allison. “I’ve never done dressage before, but my horse was so great. I was so excited when we won—I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited.”
Dahmer was also most worried about the dressage phase, and she spent the majority of her time focusing on that with the students.
“I know all the horses can jump, and I try not to over-jump them,” she said. “The biggest gap for the students was the flatwork. I spent the winter doing flatwork with them, which I think was boring for some, but this validated it.”
Richards, a junior from Elgin, Ill., went to the ANRC with no expectations of a team victory.
“We came in, and we weren’t sure how we would do. I knew it would be a tough competition,” Richards said.
“We wanted to go and do our best, but we didn’t know we were going to win. It was just amazing to come in and see all the really good riders and fun to be able to do it on the grass and in the ring. I loved it. I’m already looking forward to next year.”