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December 26, 2013

A Triumphant IHSA Finale Before Moving On

Helping the Geneseo Equestrian Team achieve some lofty goals was rewarding, but I'm looking forward to seeing what my new working student position will bring.

It's funny that our school, the State University of New York College at Geneseo, considers our Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association team to be a spring sport, considering that most of our shows are in the fall. In truth, when we compete at other schools, it feels like a little vacation. At no time was this truer than our home show in November. It feels like the entire semester leads up to our home shows so by the time we are done it usually feels a little anti-climactic. This year was a huge exception, but more on that in a minute. 

Preparing for the show involved spending the Friday trucking 24 horses to the host facility, schooling them all over the course, and then feeding and wrapping for the night. Saturday morning was a typical show day where riders balanced preparing their assigned horses as well as preparing themselves.

The biggest difference is that because we were only hosting Saturday and then traveling to Cazenovia for their show on Sunday, we had to truck all the horses home throughout the duration of the show. To add to the time crunch, the bus to Cazenovia had been scheduled to leave at 7:30 Saturday evening. Somehow the girls had to find a way to get all the horses, tack, and equipment moved back and put away with only three hours to do so after the show ended.

We have such a great group of girls who got the horses untacked and ready to go home as soon as they were done with classes, and between all of us we ended up finishing much earlier than expected. While the girls ate pizza in the barn and got on the bus to go to Cazenovia, I went out to dinner with my friends, also alumni who had been helping out at the show.

It was a bittersweet day for all of us: with the home shows over, I was preparing to leave Geneseo to start my working student position for Sloane Coles. I had pushed it off to ensure I could help with the last show before leaving. I was simultaneously excited to begin this new venture but saddened to leave the place I called home for 4 1/2 years, as well as my teammates and trainer who had quickly become my Geneseo family.

As I mentioned, sometimes the end of our home shows can be a little anticlimactic. While the girls went to Cazenovia, I sat at home texting them, demanding updates. Our girls had done very well the whole weekend, taking third overall on Saturday behind St. Lawrence by only 2 points.

We had accumulated quite a nice pile of blue ribbons, with a substantial amount coming from girls new to IHSA. Freshman Elizabeth Hasho and sophomore Jill VanBrunt both took first place at their first IHSA show and sophomore Grace Floros also took blue at her second. Walk-trot rider Chloe Degre took third despite never having shown at all before, which is especially impressive considering her first time sitting on a horse was at tryouts only two months before.

While we are usually very successful at our homes shows, the last few shows of this year went even better than expected. In IHSA, there is very much a home team advantage because you are putting on a show with horses that you already know. Therefore teams tend to excel on their own turf, making it harder for other teams to claim a top spot. Despite this, the SUNY Geneseo team, under the strong guidance of Kim Sanford, managed to excel at Cazenovia and bring home a team reserve championship, once again just behind St. Lawrence.

It could not have been a better way to end my last weekend in Geneseo, or to cap off the marathon of preparation that went in to successfully competing at and hosting our home shows. It has been an amazing semester for the team, and for me as well. I am so thankful to have gotten to spend an extra semester with the dedicated and talented girls of the Geneseo Equestrian Team and soak up as much as I could from its extremely knowledge coach before leaving.

While it was very hard to leave a place with which I have grown so comfortable, I have been looking forward to working for young hunter/jumper trainer Sloane Coles for a while. I was lucky to be able to get a working student position with her at her new venture, Spring Ledge LLC. Nestled in between the rolling hills and sweeping paddocks of The Plains, Va., it is hard to picture a better place to work.

While I have only been here for a short time, it is easy to settle in when you are working with such warm and welcoming people. From the assistant rider and trainer (and my new roommate!) Amelia McArdle, who took me to dinner the night I arrived, to Sloane’s family, and of course Sloane herself, everyone has been extremely kind and approachable.

They have such a wide variety of horses as well whose talent spans various disciplines. At Spring Ledge, various types of horses might make up my riding list for the day and include everything from a decorated junior hunter to a Thoroughbred foxhunter to a green pony hunter to a young and upcoming jumper. Being able to ride a wide variety of horses is something I have grown accustomed to and I was drawn to Sloane for that very reason.

Spring Ledge is one of those rare barns that can do multiple things and do them very well: Sloane herself competes successfully in everything from the grand prixs to hunter derbies while her father is Jt,-MFH of the Orange County Hounds. While Sloane’s 2013 highlights consist of a long list of top jumper placings it also includes many top hunter placings as well, such as her fourth place out of 107 in the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Qualifier.

Sloane fosters this kind of diversity not only in herself but also in those around her. Amelia, with her own history of winning in the jumper and hunters rings, keeps both her champion junior hunter (the aptly named MVP who is now a top adult hunter) and her grand prix horse with Sloane. Within months of working for Sloane, Amelia added another discipline to her already long resume: fox hunting.

I am very grateful to have found such an amazing position and am excited to start looking for something for Florida. My biggest goal is to be able to keep learning and improving as both a rider and a horsewoman, and between riding with Kim Sanford, my trainer in college, and working for Spring Ledge I have so far managed to accomplish that goal.

Ryan Lefkowitz grew up riding in Westchester County, N.Y. where she discovered her love of the jumper ring. She graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2013 as an English major. While riding on the Geneseo Equestrian Team she bought and successfully resold her first project horse, a chestnut OTTB named Roheryn. She is thrilled to be able to combine her love of riding and writing by blogging for the Chronicle. She has written about her experiences involved in the IHSA and is currently blogging about life as a working student. Ryan is also one of the winners of the Chronicle's first writing competition.