Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Virginia Intermont Riders Turn Sleepless Nights Into Productive Days And Claim IHSA National Championship

"Pulling an all-nighter" is usually reserved for the last evening before an exam, but it seemed to work for the team from Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va. They won the Collegiate Cup National Championship despite getting little sleep throughout the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's National Championships hosted by Middle Tennessee State University on May 6-9.

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“Pulling an all-nighter” is usually reserved for the last evening before an exam, but it seemed to work for the team from Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va. They won the Collegiate Cup National Championship despite getting little sleep throughout the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s National Championships hosted by Middle Tennessee State University on May 6-9.

More than 115 colleges and 400 riders gathered at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tenn. VIC arrived on Monday morning with six school horses. Their coach, Eddie Federwisch, was in charge of selecting the horses for the competition. The VIC team also cared for five horses from Sweet Briar College (Va.).

Schooling began at 6 a.m., so teammates took turns getting up at 2:30 or 3 to feed, groom and walk horses. They continued to care for their horses throughout the day and often managed a final hand walk at 10 p.m. after the riding ended. In spite of the lack of sleep, the team remained upbeat and competitive, winning three of eight collegiate classes and placing in two more. VIC finished the team competition with 27 points, just nipping the University of Findlay (Ohio) by 1 point.

When the awards were announced, the Findlay team rushed VIC, overwhelming them with hugs and congratulations. “When we saw them start to come toward us, we didn’t know if we should start running away!” said one of the team members laughing. Eight students of the 85 on the VIC team represented the college at the championships.

Sophomore Erika Jewell led the team in the open divisions, placing third in the collegiate over fences class and eighth in the USEF Cacchione Cup. Jennifer Tabisz, the only senior on the championship team, won the collegiate intermediate equitation on the flat on a mare named Meant To Be from Hollins University (Va.) and also placed fifth in the individual over fences. Brad Allen, a junior and one of only two men on the entire team, fell sick when he arrived in Tennessee, necessitating a trip to the doctor.

“I don’t remember my ride!” he said, although his teammates assured him that he did just fine in the individual walk-trot-canter equitation. Junior Kimberly Hezzelwood won her class, the collegiate intermediate over fences. She scored an 88 on Bert, a gelding from Chatham Hall (Va.). “He was absolutely perfect,” said Hezzelwood. “He listened very well, he was very responsive and he knows his job.”

VIC has no team captain, which Federwisch and his team believe encourages a winning bond between them. “It’s the closest team I’ve ever been on,” said Tabisz.

“The group that shows is very close-knit. We’re all laid back and that helps,” added Jewell, the only member of the IHSA team who also rode on the VIC team that won the ANRC National Intercollegiate Equitation Championship three weeks earlier.

The equestrian team at VIC is part of their general riding program and equine studies degree. Students take riding lessons to fulfill degree requirements, and Federwisch keeps a close eye on those that are part of the team. Of the 1,000 students that attend VIC, 150 are in the equine program.

A Strong Foundation
Some riders look for colleges with riding programs, but Tara Brothers, of Bend, Ore., picked the University of South Carolina for its business program. “I had no idea there was a riding team,” she said. Nonetheless, she joined the team during her second semester there, and this was her second IHSA championship.

After adjusting to the intercollegiate format, she steadily improved, and this year she put it all together to take home the USEF Cacchione Cup, as well as a second-placed finish in the individual open over fences. Brothers’ strong equitation background gave her an important foundation for intercollegiate riding.

Her mother, Carol, introduced her to the sport as a toddler, and she steadily moved up through the ranks of the horse show world, riding in the pre-children’s division and moving up to do junior hunters and equitation. When she was 14, Brothers started training with Shelley and Jeff Campf. “I mostly worked with Shelley,” she said. “She’s turned me into what I am today.”

Brothers went on to win the Zone 9 ASPCA Maclay Regional, rode at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg three times and competed in the West Coast BET/USET Talent Search finals twice. All that equitation meant that Brothers had many of the skills to compete at the IHSA shows, but it took her some time to learn to ride a new horse every time. “Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I think it’s great,” she enthused. “It really shows if you’re a talented rider or just riding a talented horse.”

A solid ride on the flat put her in contention for the Cacchione Cup victory, but it was her superb ride over fences that helped catapult her to the top of the standings. The course included a gallop down to a single oxer on the rail, then a tight three strides and a rollback turn over the last two fences. Many riders had flawless rounds only to anticipate at the oxer or miss the distance on the final fence. But Brothers has been working on just those kinds of challenges.

“I used to panic about hand-gallop fences. I would look too soon and find something unbelievably long or panic and chip in,” she said. “I spent a long time working with Shelley to fix the problem. Now I try to establish my hand gallop so I’m not still riding forward when I get to the jump.” A perfect distance to the oxer and a careful ride around the last turn gave her a 95.

The judges called back five riders for the work-off. Riders had to counter-canter to the first jump, hand gallop the second, trot the fourth, halt after the fifth, ride a 180-degree turn on the forehand, jump the last fence, and walk. Brothers drew Prima, from VIC, for the work-off. “She was excellent; I absolutely loved her,” she said. “I was very nervous about the hand-gallop jump, but once I jumped that, I was fine.”

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Although Brothers has competed in hunters and jumpers, her focus has remained on equitation. “With these horses, you let them tell you what they want,” she explained. “I start out riding them the way I ride my horse and adjust from there. I’ve also learned to judge horses by watching them.”

Boo Duncan coaches the USC hunt seat team. Brothers rides with her two or three times a week, as well as riding her own horse, William Tell. “I think having my own horse at school has made a huge difference,” said Brothers. “He refreshes me.” She rides him in the amateur-owner jumpers and is hoping to move up to mini prix classes this summer. And when she’s not riding, Brothers is busy working on her marketing and management double majors or her sports marketing minor. “I would love to do sports marketing, or maybe end up in corporate law with a focus on sports,” she said.

In Her Trainer’s Footsteps
Kate DeKraay learned some disturbing news when she finished her freshman year of college. Her first riding instructor, Debbie Kemp, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease, and she only had one more year to ride. “She always emphasized horsemanship,” said DeKraay.

So DeKraay decided to go home to Plymouth, Minn., and ride with Kemp for one more summer. Since they’re identical in size, Kemp offered some of her riding equipment to DeKraay, including a pair of custom-made Vogel boots. DeKraay was completely overwhelmed. “I started crying when she gave them to me and said these are going to be a tough pair of boots to fill,” recalled DeKraay, as she began to cry again.

Three years later, she’s finally broken in those boots and finished her intercollegiate riding career with her best national placings ever. DeKraay, 22, won the open individual over fences class with a 93. A senior at the University of San Diego in her fourth and final year at the IHSA nationals, DeKraay also placed sixth in the Cacchione Cup and 10th in the individual open flat class. She started her riding career as a school pony kid.

“I loved to be at the barn, but we didn’t have enough money to have a pony.” She acquired her first horse at 13 and worked for her lessons from then on. In her senior year of high school, DeKraay competed in the AHSA Medal finals (Pa.) and the ASPCA Maclay finals (N.Y.) and applied to colleges with riding teams. She chose the University of San Diego, where riding is a club sport. “I wish that we had more funding,” said DeKraay, team co-captain for the past two years, “but it does mean I have time to do other things. I feel like I have had a really well-rounded school experience.”

The team practices at the Concord Equestrian Center in Del Mar. Erin Wolfe just began coaching them this year, taking over from Annalee Bennett. Even though she’s a biology major and chemistry minor, DeKraay has managed to keep riding on the front burner. She works independently with Paul Hunter and Jean-Yeav Angers and rode as many as five horses a day in preparation for the championship.

DeKraay praised the horses at the competition, saying that it was the best pool she’d ever seen. In the work-off for the open individual over fences class, DeKraay also drew Prima. “She was my kind of ride,” she enthused. DeKraay said that staying relaxed is usually her biggest challenge, but this time her nerves never had a chance to interfere. “I pulled an all-nighter the night before we came, and, with the time change, I didn’t know what time it was,” she explained. “I was falling asleep before my class and didn’t have any time to get nervous.”

It was a big change for DeKraay to come from A-rated equitation to the IHSA. “This is not about sitting up there and looking pretty,” she said. “It’s about getting the horses to be their best.” She said she had shifted her focus from worrying about getting her distance to focusing on keeping the horse in front of her leg and letting the distance happen. “There is a balance between being effective and letting the horse be its best,” she said.

Meredith Houx, 22, found that balance when she won the Collegiate Cup open over fences class. A senior at Texas A & M, she took home quite a few ribbons from the IHSA nationals, including fifth in the Cacchione Cup and fourth in the Collegiate Cup open equitation on the flat. Houx, of Albuquerque, N.M., was pleased when she drew Will, from VIC, for the over fences class.

“I watched him warm up, so I knew he would need a little leg, but he was very adjustable,” she said. Focusing on maintaining her rhythm for the entire course helped push Houx to victory. “This is the most relaxed I’ve ever been,” she said. Like the other open division winners, Houx showed on the A-rated circuit before going to college. She rides with Daniel Bedoya and mostly showed in Colorado, although she did manage to show in the fall indoor shows one year.

She plans to head back out onto the circuit after graduation. “I could go traight into the business world, but I don’t want to regret not trying horses,” she explained. So when she graduates with her degree in international management, she will head to Indio, Calif., to see what she can accomplish.

MURFREESBORO, TN–May 6-9.
———————————————

JUDGES: John Roper, Sarah Good, Gretchen Mathes, Betsy Tuckey.

HIGH-POINT AQHA WESTERN RIDER: Kristin Dickerson, Oklahoma State University.
RES: Taylor Mason, California State University, Fresno. U

SEF/CACCHIONE CUP CH: Tara Brothers, University Of South Carolina.
RES: Jill Douglass, Lehigh University.

AQHA TROPHY TEAM CH: Texas A&M University.
RES: California State University, Fresno.

sIndiv. Open Western Hmsp. –
1. K. Forest, TAMU;
2. T. Mason;
3. C. Meeks, OSU.

sIndiv. Adv. Western Hmsp. –
1. L. Childress, OSU;
2. L. Whitlow, Middle Tennessee State University;
3. E. Hale, OSU.

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sIndiv. Nov. Western Hmsp. –
1. D. Whitehead, University Of Findlay;
2. K. Sinnott, Cazenovia College;
3. J. Gilmore, Murray State University.

sIndiv. Int. Western Hmsp. –
1. A. Peck, OSU;
2. L. Salestrom, University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
3. E. Diamond, Ohio University Southern.

sIndiv. Beg. Western Hmsp. –
1. J. Jones, TAMU;
2. S. Tebbe, Findlay;
3. L. Jurena, TAMU.

sTeam Open Reining Hmsp. –
1. A. Standaert, Findlay;
2. N. Klein, Black Hawk College;
3. T. Mason.

sTeam Open Western Hmsp. –
1. C. Meeks;
2. A. Shiffler, TAMU;
3. T. Mason.

sTeam Adv. Western Hmsp. –
1. D. Ramirez, TAMU;
2. B. Mehchko, Black Hawk;
3. K. Marchesi, CSU-F.

sTeam Nov. Western Hmsp. –
1. A. Peck;
2. M. Senac, TAMU;
3. S. Umberger, Findlay.

sTeam Int. Western Hmsp. –
1. K. Merritt, CSU-F;
2. L. Martin, Ohio State University;
3. C. Adian, TAMU.

sTeam Beg. Western Hmsp. –
1. H. Roberts, Ohio State;
2. S. McCalmont, CSU-F;
3. T. Beaudion, TAMU.

sAlumni Eq. –
1. A. Bill, MHC;
2. A. Phillips, Virginia Intermont College;
3. H. Helbig, Ohio University.

sAlumni Eq. O/F –
1. S. Gossman, Findlay;
2. A. Phillips, VIC;
3. M. McCabe, Vanderbilt University.

sIndiv. Open Eq. O/F –
1. K. De Kraay, University of San Diego;
2. T. Brothers;
3. J. Pigott, University of Vermont.

sIndiv. Open Eq. –
1. M. Palmer, Miami University of Ohio;
2. J. Seigel, Savannah College of Art and Design;
3. J. Snowberger, Elon University.

sIndiv. Int. Eq. O/F –
1. S. Keily, Midway College;
2. T. Brennan, Stonehill College;
3. L. Torres, University of California San Diego.

sIndiv. Int. Eq. –
1. L. Richardson, University of Virginia;
2. S. Phaklides, University of California;
3. A. Alexander, Midway.

sIndiv. W-T-C Eq. –
1. M. Rabbitt, Mount Holyoke College;
2. S. Rhymer, St. Andrews Presbyterian College;
3. T. Lassen, SCAD.

sIndiv. Nov. Eq. O/F –
1. E. Perry, Wesleyan University;
2. E. Smock, Centenary College;
3. S. Michaels, Washington & Lee University.

sIndiv. Nov. Eq. –
1. M. Keith-Hunter, Findlay;
2. H. Schremser, University of the South;
3. K. DeLucas, SAPC.

sIndiv. W-T Eq. –
1. S. Royston, MHC;
2. M. Uzman, Centenary;
3. K. Coors, Colorado College.

sTeam W-T Eq. –
1. S. Fink, MUO;
2. K. Farmer, Berry College;
3. A. Wagner, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

sTeam W-T-C Eq. –
1. R. Ellis, VIC;
2. A. Gallo, Findlay;
3. J. Campbell, Colorado State University.

sTeam Nov. Eq. –
1. R. Blacharski, Centenary;
2. K. Thiel, Findlay;
3. M. Harrison, South.

sTeam Nov. Eq. O/F –
1. E. Dubrowski, Findlay;
2. T. Medinger, Centenary;
3. A. Bird, CSU-F.

sTeam Int. Eq. –
1. J. Tabisz, VIC;
2. M. Keith-Hunter;
3. K. Jablonski, MUO.

sTeam Int. Eq. O/F –
1. K. Hezzelwood, VIC;
2. H. Hurst, Hollins University;
3. L. Collins, Colorado State.

sTeam Open Eq. –
1. J. Champagne, Hollins;
2. M. Tonello, CSU-F;
3. A. Benito, Centenary.

sTeam Open Eq. O/F –
1. M. Houx, TAMU;
2. J. Champagne, Hollins;
3. E. Jewell, VIC.

sAlumni Reining Hmsp. –
1. R. Knight, New Mexico State University;
2. K. Fryman, Ohio State;
3. D. Salazar, Oregon State University.

sIndiv. Open Reining Hmsp. –
1. K. Johnson, Morrisville State University;
2. T. Mason; 3. K. Dickerson.

sIndiv. Open Reining Hmsp. –
1. K. Johnson, SUNY;
2. T. Mason;
3. K. Dickerson.

sAlumni Western Hmsp. –
1. R. Knight, NMSU;
2. A. Brannon, MTSU;
3. K. Hodges, Stephen F. Austin State University.

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