Riding team hurdles over the competition

With two shows left in the fall season, the Washington and Lee riding team is aiming for its first ODAC title in three years this spring.

Caroline Blackmon

With four blue ribbons under their belts after two horse competitions, Washington and Lee University’s riding team know they’re ready to seriously compete with the other colleges in their ODAC region.

Every other competitive team in their region, including Sweet Briar, Randolph and Bridgewater, comes back to school several weeks before W&L’s team does, captain Caleigh Wells, ‘17, said. So, when W&L competes well against any of those teams, especially early in the season, they know they’re going to have a successful year.

The team only had two weeks to practice before their first competition this year at Randolph on Sept. 24. SarahCate Harrison, ’19, came away with the only blue ribbon.

Overall, Wells thought the team competed strongly, especially since the freshmen had only had two weeks to practice in collegiate riding, which is different than riding in high school.

“I thought we did well; we showed most of our freshmen right out of the gate,” she said. “We didn’t have any major mistakes. It’s a subjective sport so sometimes the points don’t go your way.”

At the team’s most recent competition at Bridgewater on Oct. 15, captain Jane Chiavelli, ’18, Parish Preston, ’17, and Harrison all won blue ribbons in their respective rounds.

Harrison competed in hunt-seat equitation on the flat. Harrison said the feeling of winning blue ribbons is one of the greatest in

the world. “It’s a subjective sport, so to be able to win with two different

judges in a row is an awesome feeling,” she said. One of Chiavelli’s personal goals of the season has been to increase her confidence in her two competitions, which are open fences and open flat. Fence competitions incorporate the same skills as flat competition, but with jumps interwoven throughout.

Chiavelli won her flat class at Bridgewater and she was very proud of this accomplishment.

“I’ve kind of surprised myself with how confident I’ve been. I think the past two shows I’ve done really well,” she said.

After the team’s excellent season last year, Wells said that the team’s overall goal is just to keep performing to that standard.

“Since my freshman year, we’ve improved every season so being able to do even better would be pretty incredible,” Wells said. “We have a lot of girls that we want to qualify for regionals because you can do it either as a team or individually.”

To do this, the team works on strength training both on horses and off of them.

“Our coach, Gordon, has us do no-stirrup work,” Wells said. “It’s so much more difficult to ride a horse without stirrups. Imagine holding up your entire weight by squeezing your legs together.”

Chiavelli thinks the gym workouts the team does are very beneficial for riding.

“The thing with riding is you have to be super strong, but you can’t get all the strength from just riding horses because you need a lot of conditioning out of the saddle,” she said.

Harrison agrees with this. She said strength training has really helped her because she has always had poor balance.

“When you ride, this directly translates to your core,” she said. “It’s actually pretty difficult to do on a moving animal, so we supplement our riding with strengthening exercises and workouts which help with that.”

According to the captains, the region they’re in is full of strong competition, so the team looks forward to being challenged every time they compete.

The riding team’s next competition is Oct. 29 at Hollins.