Ashley Woodhouse, a sophomore at Skidmore College (N.Y.), had to decide between riding in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and competing her own grand prix jumper, Pacifico. She chose the IHSA and riding for the Skidmore equestrian team, a decision that paid off twice over at this year’s IHSA National Championships in Sunbury, Ohio.
Woodhouse began the May 5-8 competition by winning the individual open equitation over fences championship class and finished by winning the competition’s most coveted class, the USEF/Cacchione Cup. Still, Woodhouse sees the competition as only the beginning of her IHSA career.
“If anything, it made me want to do it even more,” she said. “I will definitely keep doing this until I graduate.”
Woodhouse, from Minneapolis, Minn., began competing Pacifico, an imported Belgian Warmblood, in the low junior jumpers three years ago and worked her way up to the grand prix level. Last summer she finished second at the $30,000 Country Heir Grand Prix in Lexington, Ky.
During her freshman year at Skidmore, Woodhouse flew back and forth during the winter to Florida to compete Pacifico. But she said the schedule was too demanding, and this year, she decided to focus on the IHSA during the school year and show Pacifico in the summer.
Woodhouse began the Cacchione Cup competition with a score of 83 in the flat class, which put her in sixth place. But she said she knew anything could happen that early in the competition and that the jumping was her forté® After the over fences class, she moved up to first place by 1 point over Kyla Makloghi from Mount Holyoke College (Mass.).
On the final day, the judges asked the top eight riders to come back and jump another course. Then they asked each of the top four riders from the work-off to devise their own test in which they could jump any of the first six fences in any order and direction, but they had to trot one fence, counter canter another fence, and hand gallop one fence. And they couldn’t watch any of the other riders.
Woodhouse said she wanted to “show off” with her test and decided to counter canter between jumps 2 and 3 as a tight rollback. She then hand-galloped over the last oxer.
The judges then asked Woodhouse and Makhloghi to switch horses and ride the test again. Woodhouse felt confident because she had already ridden Prima, Makhloghi’s mount, in the flat class. Makhloghi finished as the reserve champion.
Throughout the competition, Woodhouse drew horses from Virginia Intermont College and said coach Eddie Federwisch was helpful in telling her about each animal.
Woodhouse said that competing in the IHSA presents its own challenges that are different from competing at the grand prix level. “It definitely humbled me,” she said. “It was more challenging than I originally thought.”
Woodhouse’s teammates were there to support her with hugs and congratulations. She said Coach Cindy Ford and the equestrian team at Skidmore were reasons she chose the school.
“Our team is so close,” Woodhouse said. “Just being with them for an entire week has been a highlight.”
Teamwork helped Virginia Intermont College capture the Collegiate Cup competition for the second year in a row. The team not only led throughout but they also took care of the five horses that their school brought to Sunbury. Even on the days the team members didn’t ride, they had to be at the barn at 4:30 a.m. to feed and muck stalls.
Team members Anneke Tingle, Rachel Ellis, Nora Harris, Kristina Macey, Jennifer Cumming and Erika Jewell said they didn’t mind caring for the horses, because it kept them from thinking about the competition too much. Senior Kimberly Hezzelwood, who also cared for the horses and competed in the individual intermediate equitation over fences, had to fly back to Virginia immediately after her class to attend graduation.
Jewell, Ellis, Harris and Hezzelwood already had experience with the pressures of Nationals, because they were on last year’s winning team.
It was no surprise to her teammates that Macey, a sophomore from Laurel, Md., won her novice fences class. Her teammates call her “the machine” because of her jumping ability.
“The girl has such a natural rhythm to get to the jumps,” said Federwisch.
Virginia Intermont swept the blue ribbons in both novice divisions since Harris claimed the flat class. Harris said her ride went much better this year than last, and the horse she drew was “absolutely wonderful.” She also placed third in the individual over fences class.
Harris wasn’t surprised that her team defended its title. “This is the tightest team we’ve ever had,” she said.
This year, Virginia Intermont enjoyed a comfortable lead after the first day of competition with Macey and Harris winning their divisions, and Ellis placing second in walk-trot-canter.
“We had a real big lead before Mount Holyoke caught on fire,” said Federwisch.
Mount Holyoke, the reserve champion team, had amassed 25 points coming into the final Collegiate Cup Class, open equitation over fences, and a first-placed finish could have given them enough to overhaul Virginia Intermont. It was up to open rider Erika Jewell, from Huntingdon, Pa., to secure the win for Intermont.
“We knew coming in today that we had to be good,” Federwisch added.
The pressure did not faze Jewell, who was in a similar position last year, when her third-placed finish in the class helped Virginia Intermont win the Collegiate Cup by 1 point over the University of Findlay (Ohio). This year, Jewell finished fourth as Makhloghi finished second for Mount Holyoke. But it was enough to allow Virginia Intermont to edge Mount Holyoke by a score of 34 to 30.
Although Tingle, a newcomer in the walk-trot division, and freshman intermediate flat rider Jennifer Cumming didn’t place in their classes, they said they still enjoyed competing at Nationals.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming, but I liked it,” said Cumming.
Despite finishing second at the Zone 4 finals behind Hollins University (Va.), Virginia Intermont led throughout the Nationals competition. “They picked the right ducks,” Federwisch joked, referring to the “duck pond” where riders drew the horses for their class.
Each rider picked a rubber duck with a number that corresponded to the number of a horse in the class. The duck pond, introduced at last year’s national, was just as popular, especially since the riders got to keep the ducks they drew.
“It just relaxes all the riders,” said Peggy McElveen, who ran the draw.
For some young teams, just getting one rider to qualify for Nationals represents the culmination of much hard work and dedication. Kerri Rettig, who won the individual intermediate flat class, is a freshman at Stevens Institute of Technology (N.J.). Like her entire team, she’s new to showing in the IHSA.
Coach Patti Zwaan started the team two years ago. Because the school is located in Hoboken, N.J., team members must take a 75-minute bus ride to get to practice twice a week. But the fledgling team has started to find success.
“This was the first year we got our whole team qualified for regionals,” Zwaan said.
Three of those riders qualified for the Zone 2 finals, and Rettig, from Vernon, N.J., qualified and won at Nationals.
“That horse was amazing,” she said of her ride.
Zwaan said she feels confident her team will do well again next year. Most of her riders are freshmen, sophomores or juniors and will return with another year of experience. She’s also working to continue to improve the program and has asked George Morris to judge at one of the team’s shows in the fall.
Although the Yale University (Conn.) equestrian team has existed since the early 1980s, qualifying three riders for Nationals was also a major accomplishment for the small team.
Coach Margot Sanger-Katz graduated from Yale in 2002 and began coaching the team as a volunteer shortly afterward. She’s made several changes to the program, including finding a new facility for the team to practice and holding fundraisers to help pay the team’s expenses.
“One of the real limiting factors for us is that everyone pays for everything themselves,” Sanger-Katz said.
She said she was dismayed that university officials wouldn’t give more support to the team. In addition to coaching, Sanger-Katz also rode in the competition, finishing seventh in the alumni flat division. Both of the riders on her team, Gypsy Moore, who rode in individual walk-trot-canter, and Elizabeth Gerber, who rode in novice flat, each placed third in their classes.
“I think the prospects are really good for next year,” Sanger-Katz said.
Teamwork and support were also evident from the larger teams at the competition. Kyla Makhloghi, a junior at Mount Holyoke College, competed throughout Nationals and won the final class of the hunt seat competition, individual open flat.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better ride,” she said.
Makhloghi, of Putney, Vt., also won the team open flat class and finished second in the team open fences class. She was also second for the Cacchione Cup. She said the closeness of the team helps make Mount Holyoke successful.
“It’s like a family,” she said. “We have eight people riding and 25 people here.”
Another Mount Holyoke winner, sophomore Danielle Johnson, who won the Collegiate Cup walk-trot class, also believed that the team’s tightness helped her to succeed. She joined the team because she was “bored at school” and Mount Holyoke open rider Natalie Cooper said she should try riding.
“I hope to come back next year,” Johnson said.
IHSA founder and executive director Bob Cacchione said this year’s event was one of the “most successful Nationals to date.” A total of 475 riders qualified and schools brought more than 150 horses.
“When you have all those spectators and audience members standing up and watching ringside, it shows you how dynamic it was,” Cacchione said.