West Texas A&M IHSA High Point Western Team Champions

ihsa-logo“We’re going to Disney World,” joked West Texas A&M University head coach, Amanda Love, amid cheers and tears as the final team scores confirmed what her Lady Buffs had aimed for all season: taking the 2013 AQHA Trophy High Point Western Team Championship back to Canyon.

At first it seemed the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships might have another team tie. The last day of classes in front of western judges Joe Carter and Deborah Kail opened with WTAMU and St. Andrews University sharing the top slot, having parried points for three days, since Addie Davis scored WTAMU’s first team points while closing her own college riding career with a third in NRHA Open Reining Pattern, followed shortly by Samantha Cram’s reserve in Novice Western Horsemanship for SAU.

The team title came down to the final team class: Open Western Horsemanship. While the championship went to Austin Griffith for Ohio State (who saw no shortage of individual awards at Harrisburg) the reserve to Western Individual Open Horsemanship champion Julia Roberts (WTAMU) clinched an historic second AQHA Trophy for the Lady Buffs, exactly a decade after their last IHSA Western team title.

“Every year I feel like we have a team that could be successful, but this was different,” Love said. “I knew it was going to work out. We had a great showing by winning Western Semi-Finals and kept that momentum.

“This has been a great group of girls and an absolutely successful year of building relationships. That’s what we focus on, making sure we have a team atmosphere that encourages success for everyone. Every week, we are an athletic team that pushes to become the best team out there.”

Also meeting their academic best, WTAMU’s Mary Trimble was named recipient of the 2013 Joan Johnson Memorial Scholarship.

For newly-minted AQHA Trophy Reserve Champion coach Carla Wennbergy, “This is the best I’ve ever done. It’s been an amazing, long road and this team worked so hard.  It’s like life.  You work hard, you reap the benefits.”  The St. Andrews University western coach’s closest prior brush with the trophy had been a tie for third with Middle Tennessee State. During a ceremony in the arena orchestrated by fellow coach, Peggy McElveen, five of the SAU team were presented with their graduation diplomas at Harrisburg.

Meanwhile, Austin Griffith of Ohio State University, has figured out the perfect early Mother’s Day gift: Win a national title. Defend it. Win it again.  Which is exactly what the 2013 AQHA High Point Western Rider did while rewriting IHSA history as its second-ever consecutive champion. Only Quincy Cahill (WTAMU) can claim the same, having won AQHA High Point Western Rider in 2000, 2001, and 2002.   

“I’ll take the gift. He rode even better than last year,” said mom Debbie Griffith.  She and husband Ollie have coached OSU since the inception of its western team more than 25 years ago. 

Griffith’s win in team Open Horsemanship helped OSU finish its season tied third nationally with University of Findlay. He also slid into the individual Open Reining title and reserve in team reining, received the 2013 Jack Fritz Memorial Scholarship in honor of the late, great advocate of collegiate riding, and accepted an EquestrianCoach.com Achievement of Excellence Award that included a Pard’s gift certificate and internship with NRHA legend, Tim McQuay.

“It feels awesome,” Griffith said.  Drawing Ohio State’s Wilson for the reining phase, and with NRHA president Beth Himes in the audience, his goal with the upper level horse described as a “show horse with a spur stop” was to “Send him up with my leg without risking breaking stride. I was most worried about lead changes, but didn’t have to be. Things turned out pretty good. 

“After reining, I was at the end of the first split and had twelve riders to sit through. Ashley (Winters) was in the second split, so that was nerve-wracking.”

Giving Griffith those title race jitters was University of Findlay first-year rider, Ashley Winters: “I love my coaches. They told me to keep my head up and show them what a freshman can do.”

The Western Equine Studies and Environmental Safety major earned 78 points in Phase 1 and 91 in Phase Two, after a re-ride, to clinch the AQHA Trophy Reserve Championship with 169 points. Griffith, scoring 120 in Phase 1 and repeating that score in Phase 2, had 240 overall.

Kelsey Delaplaine, of West Virginia University, earned the IHSA Versatility Award, qualifying in both disciplines for AQHA Open Western Rider, Open Equitation on the Flat, and USEF/Cacchione Cup.   

WVU and coach Bobby Dean also had SmartPak Western Horse of the Show: 1987 American Quarter Horse gelding, Joker By Story (Storys Early Morn x Tambo’s Star x Indiana Look), bred by Sharon Puccio of Farmington, WV. 

“A former student donated Joker to the program where he has been happily training students in the art of horsemanship for ten years,” said coach Dean. “He’s won national championships four times – twice this year. He won team novice (with Emily Kopko of Middle Tennessee State University), and team advanced (with Kayla Wells of WTAMU). He’s a good boy.”

Hunter Seat History

mary-drueding-cindy-fordCoach Mary Drueding and Coach Cindy FordOnly twice in the 40-year history of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships have two hunter seat teams tied for the Collegiate Cup overall high point title: 1980, when Southern Seminary College tied with SUNY Stony Brook, and 1989, when Colby-Sawyer College tied with Pennsylvania State University.

Add 2013 to that short list. St. Lawrence University coach Mary Drueding and her defending national champion Saints will share the IHSA hunter seat high point team Collegiate Cup with last year’s reserve champions, coach Cindy Ford and her ‘built Ford tough’ Skidmore College Thoroughbreds.

“Sharing is better than losing to her,” joked Drueding about her good friend and even better IHSA Zone 2 rival.  Ford and Skidmore turned up the heat in the homestretch like true Thoroughbreds on the first Saturday in May and brought the race for high point team at the 40th IHSA Nationals, at the Farm Expo Equine Center in Harrisburg, PA, to a dead heat.

During a good-natured ‘wrestling match’ while accepting the silver trophy, it was clear each coach held the other in high regard. “I admire Cindy’s work ethic.  It’s an honor to share this with her,” Drueding said.

“We’re friends and competitors. The respect is reciprocal,” said Ford. Each team finished with 22 points overall.

“At mid-year,” Drueding mused, “we were behind in the standings.  As the defending team that made me wonder, were we one-hit wonders?  Although we’ve always been a little bit better in the spring than fall.”

Indeed, St. Lawrence riders began blooming with the start of Collegiate team finals on Thursday, May 2, in front of special guest and 1986 creator of the Collegiate saddle, Weatherbeeta executive vice president, Jack Levy.

“We had a strong start,” Drueding said. Saints rider Katherine Figueroa posted a win in Novice Hunter Seat Equitation, with Skidmore’s Jessica Stoukides in reserve; and Alyssa Bokor won Intermediate Hunter Seat Equitation, again with Skidmore (Emory Wonham) second.

Friday team classes belonged to Stanford University and coach Vanessa Bartsch. In back-to-back rides that left Stanford not to be underestimated, Eliza Richartz won Walk/Trot and Victoria Greenen won Walk/Trot/Canter, contributing to the 20 points overall that would earn the West Coast team singular ownership of the 2013 Collegiate Cup reserve title.

Friday turned into Saturday and Skidmore’s Flavia D’Urso won Open Equitation Over Fences, delivering the seven points needed to bring Skidmore neck-and-neck with St. Lawrence. “We just worked hard,” said Ford, now a seven-time Collegiate Cup winner. “You never get tired of winning.”

“To have our riders come all this way and leave as reserve national champions is incredibly gratifying,” said coach Bartsch. “We had a young team of first-year riders and sophomores, except for senior, Alison Smith. Winning back-to-back championships in Walk/Trot and Walk/Trot/Canter speaks to the work ethic of our riders and quality of our coaching staff.

“Eliza was on varsity sailing before learning to ride less than a year ago. Team captain, Claire Margolis, a sophomore, was the only rider to qualify in five classes (Individual Open Flat and Fences, Team Open Flat and Fences, and Cacchione Cup). She kept her focus and led her team, despite drawing first to go in all three over fences classes.” After her rides, Margolis, a Mathematics major, drolly noted to coach Bartsch that such odds had been 1 in 9,000.

The Reich Stuff Wins USEF/Cacchione Cup 

cori-reichCori ReichCentenary College’s Cori Reich wasn’t intimidated by odds. Not when her goal was nothing short of the USEF/Cacchione Cup.  Reich, who qualified last year but did not finish in the ribbons, spent senior year redoubling her efforts under coaches Michael Dowling and Heather Clark, and drawing upon her experience growing up on the family’s Rolling Coach Stables in Ivyland, PA, building her seat on horses whose sale prices reflected their problems. 

“We got ‘difficult’ horses because those were the ones we could afford,” said Lori and George

Reich, who came to Harrisburg to support their daughter but never dared hope it would be while holding the Cacchione Cup. “Cori started riding at age six. Every horse she’s owned has been challenging. Now she’s off to bigger things.”

In front of hunt seat judges Anne and Bobby Braswell, Reich earned 84.25 points on Kerry Kocher’s over fences course, drawing “experienced equitation horse” Parker, and scoring 90 on the flat with “fantastic draw,” King, for a final 174.25 points.  The reserve champion, with 169, was Skidmore Collegiate Cup game-changer, Flavia D’Urso.

“This was the one show where I had no idea how things would go,” said the USEF/Cacchione Cup champion, who began weeping as D’Urso left the awards line-up to accept the reserve tricolor. “I happened to draw a good horse in the last phase. Parker is a Centenary horse I wanted if I was lucky, because I’m tall and he’s big, so we match well.  For the flat, I drew Centenary’s King and he was fantastic. 

“I was less worried about the draw than hearing there would be ten jumps in the ride-off. That was scary.” Reich, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Equine Studies with a concentration in training and teaching, added, “I came as an individual rider for the Cacchione Cup. After last year, I was determined to be better prepared.  Heather and Michael have been great. I was too aggressive last time so we ‘smoothed out’ my riding.”

D’Urso came ready to ride:  “I’ve been with coach Ford for a long time, so I felt consistent and prepared. I was lucky to get Centenary’s Sean, who was soft and forward, as first draw. I came ready to put my best foot forward. At the end of the day it’s up to the judges.” The Skidmore senior, from Chester, NJ, plans take her degree in psychology and art to New York City to “see what happens.”

1996 U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Silver medalist Peter Leone, on hand to award finalists with his latest book, Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic, co-authored with Kimberly Jaussi, was impressed with the caliber of competition:  “I see future assistants and employees. I’d like any of them working with me.” He’ll get his chance, having offered Reich a free week of one-on-one training at Leone’s Lionshare Farm in Greenwich, CT, after her finals.

“I remember being that age and how winning a championship like this puts you on cloud nine,” said Leone. Quoting George Morris, former US chef d’equipe and author of the forward in Leone’s book: “Through riding, you learn a lot about life.  An opportunity like this offers a boost of confidence and energy for equestrian dreams and life in general.”

Reich said, “I want to be a show jumper. I’ve always looked up to (prior Cacchione Cup winner) Beezie Madden. She’s a great role model for riders and girls. I want to ride professionally, as well as teach, train and own my own barn.”

“We’re excited for Cori,” said Centenary coaches Clark and Dowling. “She did tons of no-stirrup work. Her nemesis is that she rides a ‘forward’ horse really well into a jump. Parker was a ‘leg’ horse and not the easiest ride, but her goal was the Cacchione Cup.”

Reich also accepted the EquestrianCoach.com Achievement of Excellence Award for hunt seat riders. “She was a clear winner,” said founder, Bernie Traurig.  “She epitomized style, effective riding, and the potential for excellence in equestrian sport.  She fit the criteria to a ‘T’.” Her award included an Antares helmet and internship with hunter/equitation trainer, Missy Clark.

The top three USEF/Cacchione finalists received inaugural Anne and Mario Cacchione Memorial Scholarships: Reich, D’Urso, and Blake Roberts (Virginia Intermont College).

SmartPak Hunter Seat Horse of the Show was Centenary College’s King, a bay, 21 year-old Dutch Warmblood that has been with its riding program for seven years and described as a “fantastic draw” and “perfect IHSA pro.”

The Jockey Club Incentive Program, encouraging retraining/rehoming OTTBs, recognized Skidmore College hunter seat draw, Noah, a “simple, not complicated, ride,” as outstanding Thoroughbred of the show. Reserve was St. Lawrence’s “good draw, plenty of hunter miles, and auto-swap” Louie.  

Also Honored 

Dartmouth College made its mark in academic and lifetime achievement.  The IHSA Senior Athletic Academic Achievement Award Essay Winner was Natalie Colaneri:  “Over time, the resilience I learned from competing at horse shows shaped my academic performance. I turned negative feelings experienced after doing poorly in a show or on an exam into motivation to do better next time.  This confidence, stemming from my learned ability to convert failure into motivation, was essential to my academic success at college and I know will be incredibly beneficial in any career path I choose.”

The 21st IHSA Lifetime Achievement Award went to Sally Batton. Batton is in her 23rd season as director of riding and head coach of the Dartmouth College equestrian team, coming to the school in 1990 after two years coaching at Centenary.  “I love how IHSA brings all experience levels together.  I love seeing the highest-level riders gathered around the walk-trotter, to do hair and cheer them on. I love that IHSA allows every rider to compete,” said the IHSA National Steward since 2001, and 2008 American Riding Instructors Association ‘Instructor of the Year.’

With personal congratulations by Harrisburg’s Mayor Linda J. Thompson, the Overall IHSA Community Service Award (and 31+ members division award) went to Pennsylvania State University. 

“As part of the Penn State Dance Marathon (THON), the Penn State team raised $35,000 in 2012-2013 for pediatric cancer through fundraising,” said equestrian team coach Malinda Grice.  

“By collecting spare change, ‘canning’ on street corners, selling saddle pads, and mail appeals, the team helped THON raise more than $12 million this year.  Since their participation n fundraising for THON begain in 2007, Penn State IHSA riders have raised $129,000. Proceeds from THON go to the Four Diamonds Fund supporting pediatric cancer research and family funding/support at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital in Hershey, PA.”

IHSA Community Service (1-15 members division) Award winner was Gettysburg College, whose team volunteers at The Hoffman Home for Youth, a residential psychiatric treatment center in Littlestown, PA, and played an integral role in launching its new therapeutic riding program. 

Recognized for service in the 16-30 members division was the Hofstra University team. After Hurricane Sandy, its team helped devastated families in Long Beach, Island Park and Breezy Point by gutting homes and helping retrieve personal items.  Donating their time each weekend, the riders worked through the holidays giving out toys and food for Long Island’s ‘new homeless,’ and in April, raised over $1,000 with a dinner/dance benefit for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

Two of three IHSA Nationals Sportsmanship Awards went to Lafayette College equestrians. The Coach’s Sportsmanship Award went to Lafayette coach Erin Githens, for her additional contributions as a volunteer coordinator, overseeing a team of hundreds without losing, as nominations praised, her “stress-free attitude, positive vibes, and always great sense of humor.”

Githen’s positive example apparently rubbed off: the Rider’s Sportsmanship Award went to Lafayette AQHA High Point Western rider, Rebecca Folk. Folk helped with ‘mock horse show’ draws and was on the Smartpak Award Presentations Team, fitting her own riding in between obligations. “She spent time helping others by giving advice on horses, as well as sharing her notes on the Western horses with other riders who were competing against her in her class,” her nominations cited.

Amy Gregoris received the Volunteer’s Sportsmanship Award for her role as stable coordinator:  “She met the needs of each school and more than a hundred horses. She was approachable, helpful, and accommodating!”

Also paying tribute to the 40th edition of America’s oldest and largest intercollegiate equestrian national championships were Executive Deputy Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Michael L. Pechart, and Deputy Secretary for Animal Agriculture, Mathew Meals, while IHSA founder and executive director, Robert Cacchione, announced that a renewal contract had been signed to return to Harrisburg in May 2014.

“IHSA is founded on team spirit, sportsmanship and fun, and these have remained the objectives since inception.  We look forward to creating yet another very special event next year,” said Cacchione.

“Thank you for choosing Harrisburg.  We look forward to working with you,” confirmed George Greig, Office of the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.