West Springfield, Mass.—May 2
The Savannah College of Art and Design equestrian team—the Bees—capped off a perfect season at IHSA Nationals. They’d won their regional and zone finals leading up to it, setting an unprecedented record in the school’s history. But the suspense held up over three days of competition, and the title point race came down to the very last class, open equitation on the flat.
“I was the last one to show for the team and so I was so nervous!” said Devon Walther, 20, who took second in the competitive class to seal the victory. “I had to beat a few people for us to be guaranteed to win; it was so exciting. I drew a great horse, the same one that Ryan [Genn, our team co-captain] got to flat.
“So I was able to hear some tips before I went in. Ryan says he’s pretty much the only reason [we won!] ,” she added jokingly.
“The best part about it is that it comes down to every rider. It’s not just open fences and open flat, but walk-trot, novice intermediate. All the team contributes,” said Genn, a junior and IHSA veteran.
SCAD equestrian team coach Ashley Henry graduated from that very program in 2005 and became the coach shortly after. Her passion for SCAD’s riding team spread, and for the first time in her career at SCAD, the team took home top honors in the Collegiate Cup, which distinguishes the top intercollegiate team in the country at the IHSA Nationals, April 30-May 3.
SCAD had good placings over the last decade, but lingered just outside of the limelight—taking fourth and third in 2013 and 2014—until the hallmark win.
“It is slightly overwhelming, but it’s also really exciting because I feel that these students worked so hard this year. They’ve been practicing every single day coming into it; we try to keep ourselves focused and stay in control of our bodies and attention and emotions, because there are some incredible teams here, and there always are. We just tried to keep everyone positive and focused, because these are long days,” she said, noting that it’s not unusual for a student showing at 5 p.m. to be watching the horses school at 5 a.m. that morning.
“They were running around, stretching, making sure they were keeping their bodies warmed up,” she continued. “We worked out every week leading up to Nationals—yoga, posture training, trying to make sure they’re very respectful to others and to themselves. It’s paid off; it’s been a great year. The slogan that we’ve been going with this year is “ ‘Beelieve!’—I ‘beelieve’ in you; you ‘beelieve’ in me.” And we made it happen!” said Henry, whose earrings and outfit were bee and hive-themed.
10 of the 64-member team made the trip to West Springfield, Mass., from Savannah, Ga., carrying with them the techniques they’d practiced all year.
The IHSA has led to many job opportunities for the few seniors on the SCAD team. Lindsay Baker, a senior who took third in intermediate over fences for the team win, will be starting a new job at Heritage Farm (N.Y.) after graduation this month.
The program has also opened doors for freshman, inspiring them to give the equestrian team a shot. “I’m on the swim team as well at SCAD, so I’ve been to Nationals for swimming, but never for this!” said Heather Partlow, 21. “I’m an equestrian studies major at SCAD and I loved horses. I knew I wanted to join the team my freshman year but didn’t know if I could do it with the swimming. Our coach Ashley has been amazing in helping me work it all out.
“We try as much as we can—if the horse goes in any classes, after we draw, if it’s possible we watch the horse in the classes before and get a feel for how it’s going to move,” she continued. “Other than that, once you get on, you just breath, try and calm your nerves so the horse is calm. I make that sure that I go down a checklist, all the way from my head to my feet. Everything that I need to fix and that Ashley’s taught me, I fix, and once you get to the bottom, you start again! It’s a lot of multitasking—checking yourself and checking the horse and checking everyone around you—so it’s a lot of being aware.”
The College of Charleston’s Elizabeth Hay took home the biggest individual honor at the IHSA Nationals—the blue ribbon in the Cacchione Cup. As a senior and IHSA veteran, she couldn’t have been more pleased with the fitting end to her college career.
To read all about Hay’s win, along with more from the SCAD winners, check out our May 18 Intercollegiate Issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
The IHSA Nationals take place on April 30-May 3 in West Springfield, Mass. Want to see how each college’s team is doing in the IHSA Nationals? Click here for team standings.