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Equestrian provides competition, community for Cornell riders

Equestrian+provides+competition%2C+community+for+Cornell+riders

Waking at 5:30 a.m. every other morning in order to get to practice on-time is just part of the normal routine for the members of the Cornell Equestrian Team.

In riding breeches and tall boots, the petite riders make their way to the John T. Oxley Equestrian Center, where they will ride and do barn chores for more than two hours.

After weeks of this pre-dawn practice, four of the riders on Cornell’s 30-person team will compete at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) regional zone championships on April 7.

Georgiana de Rham, Meredith Meyer, Amanda Sevcik and Madeline Breen will compete at Long Island University’s Post campus in the open fences, novice fences and novice flat divisions, respectively.

At stake for each of the riders is a regional zone title and a qualifying spot for the IHSA nationals competition. The April 7 show, where 13 teams compete, marks the final major competition before nationals.

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“Last year I was in the intermediate division,” said de Rham, who claimed the 2012 zone championship and advanced to nationals as only a freshman. “This year I’m in the open division and that’s more competitive. I feel like at the beginning of this year I was putting more pressure on myself to do as well as I had last year and that was affecting my riding. Then I kind of relaxed and was just riding and not worrying about qualifying or points and that benefited my riding.”

Their season begins in mid-October, with riders taking part in a variety of competitions across the Northeast. As per standard IHSA rules, at each show, riders are given an unfamiliar horse from the hosting college, a challenge meant to test their genuine ability to ride any horse, rather than one they’ve consistently trained with.

“It’s definitely very mental,” senior team captain Emily Webster said. “You’re getting on a horse that you’ve never ridden before and you’re expected to get on and just go. It’s challenging. You have to have the confidence, and you have to have the confidence in the horse.”

Despite the challenges and competition of IHSA, horseback riding benefits the young athletes in the long term, said Elizabeth Reynolds Mahoney, de Rham’s former coach at The Thacher School in Ojai, Calif.

“To be able to get on anything, a nice horse or a not so nice one, and being able to actually ride anything that is given to you is a huge benefit for kids,” Mahoney said. “It’s incredibly helpful to those who want to go and be trainers afterwards. If you can’t ride anything that is thrown at you, then you can’t really ride.”

That was the purpose Robert Cacchione, executive director of the IHSA, had in mind when he helped create the organization in 1967.

“These riders from the time they are in the IHSA not only build up confidence and self-esteem, but they are learning something going forward with the possibility of qualifying in the regional zones up to the national championships,” Cacchione said. “They also have a strong sense of team camaraderie. They’re making life long friends. It’s just a great, great experience.”

Despite the challenges, Cornell coach Todd Karn said he was optimistic about the girls’ chances for moving on to nationals.

“I think the girls have just a good a chance at moving ahead to the nationals as anybody there,” he said. “None of us are familiar with the horses so I really think it’s a little bit of a horse race. Anybody could pull ahead and move on.”

The girls ride for the love of horses, the love of the team and the camaraderie that comes from waking up and working at 6:30 in the morning every other day, de Rham said.

Breen, who grew up in London, England before coming to Cornell, agrees.

“Being international, joining the team gave me a whole family that I can go back to and that’s really nice,” she said.

Update: Freshman Meredith Meyer was the sole Cornell rider to qualify for the IHSA national competition at the April 7 zone meet. Meyer will compete in the open flat equitation.  

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