Friday, May. 24, 2024

University Of New Hampshire Clinches IDA National Championship

UNH becomes the first public school to win the IDA Nationals in its eight-year history.

For students competing at the Intercollegiate Dressage Association National Championship, consistency is the key to winning. The University of New Hampshire defined the word, with each of its four riders placing in the top four to win the team championship, April 18-19, at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio.

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UNH becomes the first public school to win the IDA Nationals in its eight-year history.

For students competing at the Intercollegiate Dressage Association National Championship, consistency is the key to winning. The University of New Hampshire defined the word, with each of its four riders placing in the top four to win the team championship, April 18-19, at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio.

“I’m not sure if it has entirely sunk in for any of us,” said Sarah Hamilton, the coach of UNH’s dressage team since its inception nine years ago. “It’s really rewarding.

“I’ve known all of these students for quite some time, and they all worked really hard and have come a long way in their riding,” Hamilton added. “It’s really fun for me as a coach to see them progress, and, frankly, that alone would be reward enough, but it was so great to see that everything paid off for them.”

UNH’s dressage team has been flirting with the top spot for the past few years.

“Last year we were fourth [at nationals], and it was a pretty tight competition,” said Hamilton. “Two of our riders were tied, and they both lost the ties. One of the things I’ve been telling the girls all year is that we want to go back and do even better. We’ve been trying to clean up every point, trying to make every box count. I just pushed them not to give up and to fight for it.”

First To Go

Kim Guyer, UNH’s captain and a nationals veteran, had the daunting task of setting the standard for her team.

“I’ve pretty much ridden at all the levels,” said Guyer, who represented the school in 2007 at lower training and 2008 in upper training. “Going first is better for me because I can go and do my thing and be done and be excited for everyone else. There’s more pressure as the day goes on.”

Guyer, a senior from Northborough, Mass., has been riding since she was 7 and did western pleasure before taking dressage and jumping lessons. She’s now competing at second level and plans to apply to veterinary school after graduation.

“I’ve known Kim since she was a freshman, and she’s really grown into a great leadership source,” said Hamilton. “She drew a big, fancy warmblood who was an extravagant mover, and he was a lot of horse for her. She really had to work to get the test to come together. She had some moments that were just lovely, and she had some moments where you could tell she was struggling a bit to keep the horse balanced.”

Guyer left the ring feeling that her test wasn’t as fluid as it could have been, but Hamilton said the judges rewarded her because she worked as well as she could with a challenging horse. She placed fourth.

“We knew you don’t have to win every test, but everyone has to work to get the most out of their horse that they can,” said Hamilton. “It won’t hurt if you don’t win, but it’ll hurt if you place low. It was a hard-fought fourth.”

A Personal Victory

Two years ago, Kat Williams-Barnard was sidelined with a massive liver tumor that had to be removed, leaving her in the hospital for many weeks while she recovered.

“The doctors told me there were very few things I could do,” said Williams-Barnard. “But he said I could ride if I wanted to, so I held on to that tighter than I ever have in my whole life.”

A senior from Lee, N.H., Williams-Barnard is an outdoor education major who hopes to enter the field of equine assisted psychotherapy.

While she’s been on the dressage team at UNH for a little more than a year, Williams-Barnard got her start in Pony Club and evented. This year was her first experience at nationals, and she admitted she was a little intimidated.

“When we watched the horse in warm-up, we thought the horse [Kat drew] would be a good fit because she’s good with sensitive horses,” said Hamilton. “But seeing the horse play a little bit and spook with the rider before her was making her a little nervous. We had to have a little pep talk. I said, ‘Kat, you have overcome a lot more serious personal challenges than this.’ ”

More National Titles

Jessica Forend, an equine business management major at Johnson & Wales University (R.I.), already had a national championship under her belt when she arrived at Findlay College for the IDA National Championships. She won the lower training division in 2008 and took home the upper training honors this year after a nail-biting finish where she scored a 70.80 percent.

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“I was the first ride of my division, so I was a little bit nervous about that,” she said. “But when I got on the horse I was happy with what I felt. We went into the ring, and he absolutely performed his best for me. I thought I had a great test. I tried to watch as many of the tests after me as I could, and there were a few tests I thought were great too. I was surprised to find out I tied for first.”

The judges picked Forend as the winner over Findlay’s Ashley Parsons. Both riders competed on the same horse.

“I didn’t have too much show experience before I came to school,” said Forend. “So I tried out for the team, and when I found out I was on it I was absolutely ecstatic. I’ve met a lot of great people, and my coach is an awesome person. It’s been a great experience.”

Despite being a freshman at Averett University (Va.), Laura Thompson knew the ropes before trying out for the IDA team there. In high school, she competed on her high school equestrian team, which prepared her for the rigors of intercollegiate horse showing.

“I was a little nervous [for nationals], and there was a lot of pressure,” said Thompson, who won the lower training championship. “When I rode, I honestly wasn’t pleased with my test. I thought it was decent, but I didn’t think it was the best. But, my horse was cute and had a really funny personality, and I was pleased with his gaits and movement.”

Thompson, an equine business management major from Canton, Ga., hopes to eventually own her own facility one day.

Hamilton said that about six minutes into the warm-up one of the stewards stopped the ride and told them that the horse was going to be pulled due to its antics with the previous rider. Williams-Barnard was given the option of riding the horse or taking the alternate.

“I looked at Kat and said to her, ‘You can ride this horse, and you’re having a beautiful warm-up. You’re going to go out there and prove that he will be just fine,’ ” said Hamilton. “So we kept the horse, she went out and had a brilliant test on him and got a 68 [percent].

“He was one of those horses that you weren’t allowed to applaud because he’d spook, and he didn’t spook through the entire test, and it was one of the hardest things not to cheer at the end,” added Hamilton of their third-placed ride. “That was a real personal victory for her.”

Shifting The Leader Board

Casey Hoatson, a junior from York, Maine, had to ride an alternate horse after the horse she originally drew was pulled from the competition.

“The alternate was a horse I had barely noticed that morning, and the only reason he stuck out in my mind during the warm-up was because he was spooking,” said Hamilton with a laugh. “Casey is another rider that does well with a horse that’s a little more forward and up and a little bit of a challenge, so I said, ‘OK, kid, you’ve got one.’ She had to sweat for that ride, but she went out and had a beautiful test on him and won the class.”

Hoatson is an occupational therapy major with an equine minor. She’s been riding since begging her parents for lessons when she was 7 and started in the hunter ring before moving on to eventing. She began riding dressage when she started school at UNH.

“It’s been so eye-opening to me,” Hoatson said of her dressage education. “It’s been making a lot of sense.

“The win was a total surprise,” she added. “I pulled a horse that was pretty large, and I’m pretty small [5’2″], so I went, ‘All right, I’m going to try my hardest and see what happens.’ To get reserve high-point score of the day at the same time was phenomenal.”

Down To The Wire

“The whole day I was tallying scores, and by the time that Casey won, we were in first by 2 points,” said Guyer. “All of the other teams were trying to figure out who was in first and second, and none of the other teams even mentioned us.”

But in IDA, nothing is finished until the introductory division is completed. And for Bridget Shea, a senior from Wilmington, Vt., that meant the pressure was on.

“I was all nerves,” reflected Shea. “The stress was absolutely incredible, especially since I’ve only been riding dressage a couple of years, so I’m not the strongest rider. I actually got off my horse and started crying because I thought I had a bad ride!”

Shea graduates this year with a pre-vet degree and plans to take a year off to apply to farrier school. She said she’ll specialize in laminitis. She’s been riding since she was 7, but she mainly hits the trails with her Morgan.

“I never had formal lessons. When I came to UNH I couldn’t stay sane without doing something on the side, and riding was the most fun, so I took up dressage,” she said.

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After the competition ended, all of  the teams had to wait until the awards ceremony to find out who had won. During the course of the day, placings were announced for each level as it was completed, but the organizers kept the introductory scores to themselves in order for the final standings to be a surprise.

When Shea collected her third-placed ribbon, the championship was sealed.

Spotlight On University Of New Hampshire’s Equine Program

•    UNH was established in 1866 as a land-grant college, formed with the idea that it would have agriculture as part of the heart of its mission.

•    The large animal program began in 1867, and the school’s equine center is located on its main campus. It includes an indoor arena and outdoor ring as well as a cross-country course, where they run three USEA-recognized events per year as fundraisers for the program.

•    Two- and four-year equine programs are offered with three different tracks: equine science, equine industry and management, and therapeutic riding.

•    UNH is one of the greenest campuses in the country and has a heavy focus on energy conservation and recycling, as well as maintaining its green spaces for the farm programs and animal programs.

“Another coach congratulated me because she’d seen the scores,” said Hamilton with a laugh. “But I didn’t want to tell the students, so I left them in suspense. It came down to the very end, and they didn’t know until Virginia Intermont was called as the reserve champion. The look on their faces was phenomenal, and I think they practically ran to claim their prizes. They told me the next day that they weren’t sure what hurt more, their legs and tummy muscles from riding or their faces from smiling!”

Otterbein’s Blues

Greg Schmid, a senior from Otterbein University (Ohio), used his years of experience to capture the first level national title, as well as a first-placed ribbon in first level during the team competition.

“The real pressure for me starts when we have to draw our horses,” said Schmid, a graduate “A” Pony Clubber from Granville, Ohio. “Not only am I responsible for drawing myself a horse, but I also have to draw for my team.”

Schmid was excited about the horse he drew for himself, but he had the third ride and was concerned about him being tired and heavy.

“I went in there and was thinking to myself the whole time, ‘How am I going to get this horse’s poll up,’ ” said Schmid. “The judge even commented on the test sheet, ‘Don’t keep raising your hands.’ I wasn’t expecting to get the score I did the first day.”

Otterbein finished fifth on team day, and Schmid was also awarded the high-point score award with his 72 percent. He bettered his score on Sunday, scoring 72.10 percent and taking home his first national championship.

“On the second day I drew a horse that I knew fairly well because we compete at Findlay,” he said. “He can be really great, but he can get really inverted if you offend him, and it takes a long time to apologize. I was nervous about drawing him, but he did amazing with me that day.”

Schmid is heading to veterinary school in the fall and has a keen interest in equine sports medicine. He credited his IDA career with banishing his show nerves.

“I was always the person who got outrageously nervous before shows,” said Schmid. “When you join IDA you have team support, and you’re continually going to schools to ride different horses. I’ve got a lot of dressage tests under my belt, and it helped me realize it’s not the end of the world if you go in and have an embarrassing test or didn’t get along with the horse or disagree with the judge’s comments. It’s just the way it works.”

Colleen Grant, a freshman and Schmid’s teammate from Otterbein, won and lost during the IDA National Championships.

“I was nervous in the beginning as I watched team day [Saturday],” said Grant. “I found out later that afternoon that my grandmother passed away. I told myself to try and do my best for her.”

Grant, Solon, Ohio, had the third ride in the introductory division, and the first on her horse, and won the title.

“I’ve definitely gotten better at breathing when I ride,” Grant said with a laugh. “The horse I rode was nice and definitely had some good brakes on her. I’m hard on myself, so I was watching people go and I thought they were better. One of my teammates told me I was in first, and I was really surprised, but happy. As the scores kept coming out I was getting more excited.”

Grant started at Otterbein in the equine studies major, but she switched her focus to mathematics with an equine minor. She hopes to find a way to combine her love of horses with mathematics.

Coree Reuter

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