Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

SCAD Fashions Another Big Win At ANRC


The team from Georgia cements its stranglehold on the competition with their fifth win in six years.

Despite returning as defending champions, the riders from the Savannah College Of Art And Design (Ga.) didn’t feel any extra pressure at this year’s American National Riding Commission Intercollegiate Equitation Championship.

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The team from Georgia cements its stranglehold on the competition with their fifth win in six years.

Despite returning as defending champions, the riders from the Savannah College Of Art And Design (Ga.) didn’t feel any extra pressure at this year’s American National Riding Commission Intercollegiate Equitation Championship.

“You want to show up, and you want to represent your school well, and of course you want to win. But we were all completely relaxed all weekend,” said senior Meredith Gallagher. “We came feeling really prepared, with great horses, and that made all the difference.”

That confidence helped SCAD earn its fifth ANRC title in six years at this year’s championship, held at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C., April 18-19. Centenary College (N.J.) earned reserve honors after a close race, and Sweet Briar (Va.) finished third of the eight teams.

SCAD freshman Kels Bonham topped both jumping phases to nab the individual title and boost SCAD to the top of the leaderboard. Bonham edged Centenary’s Lindsay Mohr, who started out winning the dressage sportif, then went on to finish .11 points behind Bonham’s score of 92.09.

Freshman Chelsea McCarthy joined Bonham and Gallagher on the winning team, and SCAD rounded out their strong contingent with Paul Frederick, who rode as an individual and finished 11th.

“Everyone rode so beautifully,” said Andrea Wells, who joined Andrew Lustig and Ashley Kelly on the SCAD coaching team this year. “It’s a great chance for the kids, a chance to do something different. Kels came out of the [hunter trials course] grinning from ear to ear and said, ‘That was a blast!’ ”

Consistency Pays Off

After spending the season competing at Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competitions, the riders from SCAD rounded out their show preparation with a little cross training prior to the ANRC Championships. They boned up on their flatwork with a lesson with dressage guru Pierre St. Jacques and rode out in a pasture to give the riders a feel for the hunter trials phase.

“The diversity of this competition is great and a perfect venue to teach overall horsemanship,” said Wells. “The kids are already familiar with the stadium phase, and giving them the experience of riding over an outside course in the hunter trials phase and then adding in the dressage is a great challenge.”

Riders had the opportunity to school over the hunter trials course and the exact medal course the day before the competition.

“It’s really admirable to the association,” said Gallagher, Haines City, Fla. “There are a lot of levels of horses and riders, and letting everyone get out over the courses really helps to get everyone on a level playing field.”

This year the written horsemanship test focused on soundness and conformation. Competitors who scored exceptionally high, above a 95 percent, earned 1 extra point for their final score, while those who scored below a 70 percent were docked 1 point.

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Caroline Taylor from St. Andrews logged the high score with a 98.10 percent. The written phase didn’t factor prominently in the final results, a testament to the competitors’ preparation rather than a soft test.

Looking Toward The Future

In addition to working as the program director for equestrian studies at the Savannah College Of Art And Design (Ga.), Andrea Wells also serves as the director at large on the ANRC Board of Directors. She pointed out that enthusiasm for the annual com-petition runs high, even if that sentiment doesn’t yet translate directly to a long list of participating schools.

With four intercollegiate championships running within two weekends—ANRC championships, Intercollegiate Dressage Association Nationals (p. 18), and NCAA championships (p. 14) ran the weekend of April 18-19, and IHSA Nationals (p. 8) on April 23-26—colleges had to select where to send riders and, in some cases, horses, in a year of across the board belt tightening.

And, of course, the championships coincide with the last few weeks of the semester, when students are busy trying to study for exams and finish papers for the year.

SCAD fashion design major Meredith Gallagher took an entire sewing machine with her to the ANRC Championships so she could finish her senior project, a collection of equestrian apparel for children, when she wasn’t competing or at the barn.

Despite the challenges, Wells remained optimistic about the future growth of the championship.

“I saw a lot of smaller schools and individuals stepping in and giving it a whirl this year,” said Wells. “We had one rider from The College of William And Mary (Va.), who was stabled up the aisle from us, there on her own for the first time. Our students befriended her and tried to show her the ropes. I know she had a great time, and hopefully she’ll go back and tell everyone, and next year they’ll send three riders to give it a try.”

“My main responsibility was to make sure everyone passed the test,” quipped Gallagher, who competed at her fourth ANRC this year. “We met twice a week for about a month in advance to study—we definitely did our homework.”

SCAD started out the riding portion of the competition strong, and three riders lay in the top 10 after dressage. Bonham led the way with a second-placed finish behind Mohr.

“It’s not an upper level test at all; it’s basically a flat class with two jumps, but working with Pierre helped us figure out how to get the most we could out of our horses,” said Bonham. “He helped us get everything very precise, which made a big difference.”

SCAD dominated the hunter trials phase by taking the top three slots. Bonham led the charge with scores of 95 and 92, followed by Gallagher and McCarthy. Though none of the riders had much experience riding over natural obstacles, that didn’t factor into the competition.

“Even though it’s definitely not something we get to do on a regular basis, it was so natural for the horses to gallop and jump out in a field,” said Bonham, who described the hunter trials as a highlight of the weekend. “It really encouraged a smooth, forward ride. All of the horses went absolutely beautifully over the classic hunt jumps. They liked it as much as we all did.”

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Strong performances in the final medal phase by Bonham, who finished on top, and McCarthy, who took fifth, secured blue for SCAD. The 3-foot indoor course started out with a tough line right off the bat and had several jumps set deep in the corners, with plenty of challenges even for the riders who recently graduated from the junior equitation ranks.

“The competition at ANRC is pretty tough—there are a lot of good riders who I know from my junior days,” said McCarthy, Old Brookfield, N.Y. “We came into the last phase neck-and-neck with Centenary, and everyone rose to the occasion.”

Making The Difference

All of the riders credited their success at the championship to strong preparation by the coaching staff.

“We get such great instruction throughout the year that when it comes time for the big competitions, it’s not a race to get better, but just a time to put on a little polish,” said Frederick, Hopewell, Va. “And we’re so lucky that SCAD provides us with such wonderful horses—it makes all the difference.”

After spending the season aboard mystery mounts in the IHSA shows, ANRC offered a welcome chance to ride some familiar friends. But an injury and a series of last-minute horse swaps meant that there were no veteran partnerships in the mix.

Bonham paired with Daniel, an adult amateur hunter that the school leased from Sherri Geddes for the event. Frederick tacked up Willow, who finished second at the ASPCA Maclay Finals in 2004 with Julie Welles. Gallagher rode Barcelona, who used to compete in the hunter ring with Betty Oare, and McCarthy paired up with ANRC veteran Sculpture.

“Because we have such lovely horses, it’s possible for the riders to get really good scores in the dressage,” pointed out Wells. “This was the first year all of our riders scored above 200 in that phase, which is fantastic for them.”

Bonham’s blue at St. Andrews marks her second national title in a year. The 18-year-old turned plenty of heads last fall when she topped the USEF Medal Final, an unexpected win for the catch-rider who grew up in Claremore, Okla. A fifth-generation horsewoman, Bonham grew up training with her parents Heather and Michael, and she joined trainer Missy Clark in the twilight of her junior career.

“It’s been a nice transition to riding at college,” said Bonham. “Everyone on our team is great: we’ve all been to [Pessoa/USEF] Medal Finals and been there, done that. In college you’re doing it for fun. You want to represent, and you want to win, but there’s less pressure.”

Bonham plans to declare herself an equestrian studies major once the program is officially instituted next fall. And she’s finding that her classes are prepping her for a career in the horse industry as well as helping her in the ring, especially a course designing class that’s made her evaluate courses through new eyes.

Mollie Bailey

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