Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

Zone 4 Shows Their Strength At IHSA Nationals.

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While the entire country was affected by the Virginia Tech tragedy on April 16, the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association was struck a very personal blow as Emily Hilscher, 19, a freshman and a member of their riding team, was the first person killed that day. The IHSA and particularly Zone 4, of which Virginia Tech is a member, joined together to remember Hilscher throughout their National Championships, held May 3-6, at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass.

Virginia Intermont College, which co-hosted their zone finals with Virginia Tech, did their neighbors proud, dominating the Collegiate Cup team competition and sealing their victory the night before the final class ran. They dedicated their win to the Hokies, wearing VT-emblazoned baseball caps and parading with the Virginia Tech coach, Teresa McDonald, and their school’s banner during the awards ceremony.

“After hosting Zones with them at Virginia Tech, it’s amazing the difference two weeks can make. It’s been a month of learning for everybody,” said coach Eddie Federwisch. “Teresa McDonald is one of my greatest friends, and if I had to think of one person who could live through this with dignity and pull everyone back together, it’s her.”

The events preceding nationals changed Federwisch’s preparation for his team and ramped up his girls’ desire to win even more than usual. “I’m usually pretty intense and get after them daily, but I felt it was better to ease up a little,” he said. “Everyone fights hard to get to nationals, but Zone 4 really pulls together when we’re here; there’s a lot of regional pride.”

Virginia Intermont, a team composed of mostly nationals first-timers, had already amassed a substantial lead going into the final class on Friday, thanks to wins earned by Jessica May in intermediate flat, Julianne Wilson in novice flat and Jennifer Kelly in walk-trot-canter, as well as thirds by Jessica Warner in novice over fences and May in intermediate fences.

Walk-trot rider Jamie King’s second place that night assured their victory, regardless of the outcome of the open flat class the next morning. “That was probably her third show in the IHSA. She’s been living on the longe line in preparation for this,” said Federwisch, whose team won the Collegiate Cup in 2004 and 2005 by far closer margins. “We all slept a lot better Friday night.”

Sophomore open rider Brittany Denton added a bonus fourth place Saturday morning to show that she’s ready to step up into the spot vacated by a recently graduated team member at that level.

“To be 13 ahead with 7 [possible points] left was very reassuring. [Denton] was relieved! She knew it was just for fun and she rode great,” Federwisch said, quick to pass credit to the horses donated to the competition by many schools and individuals. “I’ve never been to a horse show before in the 11 years I’ve done this when, while all the horses are nice, they’ve pulled the phenomenal ones. We couldn’t have had better draws.”

Showing Versatility

Last year’s Collegiate Cup winners and one of the competition’s hosts from Zone 1, Mount Holyoke College (Mass.), tied for this year’s reserve title with University of Findlay (Ohio) with 25 points, 12 behind Virginia Intermont. Findlay dominated the American Quarter Horse Association Trophy western team competition, finishing 20 points ahead of reserve champions, Ohio State University.

University of Findlay senior Travis Womer won the individual intermediate over fences championship after claiming last year’s AQHA High-Point Western Rider title, which this year was won by teammate Trevor Dare. The 22-year-old from Camarillo, Calif., grew up riding hunters but didn’t show much until school, where he was introduced to western riding.

“It is difficult. It’s hard to go back and forth, and lots of days I go right from one barn to the other,” he said, crediting his coaches in both disciplines. “I’m planning to come back as a graduate assistant with the western program, but they’re already recruiting me to help out with the hunt seat!”

Two more of his Findlay teammates earned individual championships on the flat: Kathryn Johnston took the open tricolor, while Zoe Steele-Rand scored in walk-trot-canter. Steele-Rand was supposed to compete at nationals last year, but their team was disqualified for a rule infraction. However, Delaware Valley College’s Del Monte, her draw for the class, was a familiar face.

“I remembered him from last year, so when I drew him, I felt pretty confident going to the class. They told me he was around 20 years old and had already done six or seven classes today, so I knew he’d be getting tired,” she said. “During the canter, he started coughing and it pulled me out of the tack a little, but one of the other horses was acting up a little so they let us canter again and he was perfect.”

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The win capped off a bittersweet season for Steele-Rand, 19, of San Diego, Calif. “This was really the culmination of a perfect season for me,” she said. “My dad passed away this summer. He never really got horses, but he completely supported me in it. I just remember him thinking how cool it was that his daughter could be national champion in something, so this is for him.”

Del Monte also helped Stanford University (Calif.) junior Karen Lone earn the individual walk-trot tricolor. Lone, 21, of Norway, moved to California to study earth systems. She found out about the IHSA while riding around campus on her bike and finding the barns soon after arriving at the school.

“It’s been the one constant thing in my college experience. I love the outdoors and being able to spend time at the barn is great, as well as to meet people who share the same interests as I do,” said the junior, whose teammates cried and hugged ringside when her win was announced.

Lone’s only horse experience prior to joining the team was about three week’s cumulative time at camp riding Icelandic ponies. “They said I looked like a disaster when I got here,” she said. “The walk-trot riders, we’re like their kids. Everyone gives us great advice, and they always have time to help.”

Hard To Judge

Linda Shahinian and Randy Mullins presided over the hunt seat judging and were hard-pressed to pick the winner of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Cacchione Cup, the individual high-point open rider class. “The quality of the riding and the horses has been incredible,” said Shahinian. “We’ve just been in awe of it all.”

Cacchione Cup riders show on the flat and over fences, then the six riders with the highest scores return on the final day for a ride off. It took the ride off and two subsequent tests for the judges to dub the University
of Virginia’s Whitney Roper champion, in another boon for Zone 4.

“There was no clear winner after the first test,” said Shahinian. “I looked over at [Mullins] thinking, ‘I don’t want to tell him I think we should test again.’ And he was thinking the same thing, but we didn’t want to pick the winner.”

“They all had a little mistake here or there, so we thought we’d give them a chance on another horse, and the girl who won it basic-ally had a clear ride,” said Mullins. “Whoever had the best score on that final ride would be the winner, and we were just praying someone would surface!”

Roper, a 21-year-old junior majoring in sociology, had already laid claim to titles in 2003’s Washington (D.C.) International Horse Show Finals and the R.W. Mutch Trophy. Riding Mount Holyoke’s Colbert, an 18-hand Hanoverian gelding, for the ride off course and the first test, Roper, of Rumson, N.J., gave a patient ride that suited her large, mellow mount.

“He was so much fun. He was definitely quiet and seemed a little tired, but he would leave from anywhere,” she said. “He reminded me a lot of a horse I used to ride, so I rode him more like a hunter because that’s how he seemed to like to go.”
 
Coming into the last day in second place behind Mount Holyoke’s Nathalie Cooper, the two girls switched horses for the final test. Cooper’s miss at the trot jump with Colbert dropped her to third, while University of Kentucky’s Callie Schott moved from fourth to second thanks to her switch ride.

“I felt I was in a good position [in second] because I usually feel more comfortable coming from behind instead of having to maintain the lead,” said Roper. “Lemon Park [her switch horse] was really good to the trot jump, and I really wanted to show the gallop with him, but I didn’t see my spot so I had to bring him back a little. [Switching horses] shows how versatile you can be. It’s a new type of challenge.”

This was Roper’s first full season in the IHSA, and she’s loved the team aspect as well as the opportunity to show in such a unique format. “[My former showing experience] enables me in some way to deal with the
pressure, but the team aspect gives an entirely new form of pressure that I’ve never felt before,” admitted Roper, thanking her teammates, coach Claiborne Bishop and Hollins University coach Sandy Gerald for their support, as well as those who donated their “wonderful” horses to the show.

Still Her Forte

The 2001 Cacchione Cup winner, Amanda Forte, returned to IHSA Nationals and showed that she’s still got the winning touch in the alumni over fences class. Forte, who graduated from Brown University (R.I.) in 2002, took over the top spot after switching horses with College of William and Mary (Va.) alumna Jill Wilson.

Forte admitted that other riders’ rave reviews about the two horses initially played on her nerves. “I tend to like the ones who are a challenge. On the opening circle I tested [Centenary College’s 16-hand palomino, Toby’s] stride because that was the one thing I was concerned with, the long distances and getting down the lines, but he was right there,” she said. “They were right; he was just like riding a big pony.”

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In the test, Forte was really able to show off on Dartmouth’s Thady. “I think my strength was my position in the air and the forward, aggressive ride that I was really going for, the confidence of knowing where you are and really riding to the distances.”

Forte, who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is getting married this October, is thrilled to be able to continue showing through the IHSA and to stay involved with the Brown team, which placed third this year. “I love the IHSA. I showed on the circuit for so long, and the opportunity to jump on a horse and figure it out is fantastic. Living in New York, it can be hard to ride, so I really appreciate the ability to get out and show on the weekends,” she said. “And, it’s amazing to see the Brown team here!”

Skidmore College (N.Y.) rider Jessica Schroff, 21, bumped herself up two spots after the test to win the individual open over fences, riding Skidmore’s own James. She didn’t necessarily view her familiarity with the horse as an asset, however.

“I was actually really worried because I don’t always get along with him. He’s never been to nationals before—well, they took him last year, but they didn’t use him because he was bucking in the warm-up. He was wonderful today though,” said Schroff, who’s studying to become a social worker.

James takes a lot of leg, so Schroff had some concerns. “I knew what I was going to be dealing with, and I was really nervous about the first jump in the test because you had to pick up the canter and go straight to it,” she said. “We knew he was going to halt without a problem [after the last fence], so we just wanted to keep it from being too abrupt!”

Coach Cindy Ford advised Schroff, who’s assuming her team’s role as main open rider next year, to take an inside turn on the first course if she really wanted to go for the win. “She’s really petite, and to ride that horse, you’d like another foot of leg,” said Ford. “I was out hand-walking him for an hour this morning at the far end of the arena—I must have had a premonition that we were going to draw him!”

Rachel Samuels, of Centenary College (N.J.), rode another Skidmore steed, Chilly, to the individual intermediate over fences title. The 15.3-hand warmblood mare was a consistent performer who helped many riders to top placings and was named the hunt seat horse of the show. She still managed a little spook during Samuels’ test.

“She was amazing and so adjustable, a blast to ride. She spooked in the corner but came right back. I just figured I’d keep my composure and ride through it,” said Samuels, 21, of Pennsville, N.J.
The equine science major couldn’t be rattled on the flat either, earning the individual championship at the novice level.

“Even people who had trouble with their horses, we were able to see that and take it into account,” said Shahinian. “We looked at how they handled the problems and what they did afterwards.

“It’s very surprising to think that these riders stand at the gate and get on and never even jump a jump,” she continued. “You can see at the first and second jumps they’re figuring them out, and by the third they’ve got it, or you watch it fall apart from there. It’s very interesting and makes a level playing field.”

The judges were clearly impressed by this year’s competition, which marks the 40th anniversary of the IHSA. “To see this today is incredible,” said an emotional Bob Cacchione during the hunt seat awards ceremony for the organization he founded as a student. “I travel all over the country attending shows, and
people thank me, but I want to say, ‘Thank you.’ I gave it to you, it’s yours, and I thank you for 40 years of IHSA.”

Stacey Reap

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