Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stanford Wins Reserve National Championship

The Stanford Equestrian Team: 2013 Reserve National Champions
Harrisburg, PA: The Stanford Equestrian Team traveled east to the historic Harrisburg Farm Show Complex for the 2013 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals, held from May 2-5. Over three days of competition, seven riders from the Cardinal’s hunt seat squad competed over fences and on the flat, working to defend eight consecutive years of top ten finishes at the IHSA National Finals. The group was comprised of three sophomores, three first year riders, and just one senior member of the team who had shown at previous National Finals.

The team competition began on Thursday, May 2 with rides by freshmen Holly Grench in Novice Fences and Bailey Martinez in Intermediate Flat, as well as a showing by sophomore Erin Gray in Novice Flat. All three riders put in solid rides, but it was Grench who walked away with a ribbon after her smooth round over fences. Even through Grench is in her first year on the team, she showed her poise by adjusting to the small step of the horse she drew, earning a strong score of 79.5 and a seventh place finish. Gray and Martinez both had nice rides on the flat, but in the large, competitive classes they were not in the top ten.

Also on the first day of competition, sophomore and hunt seat team captain Claire Margolis took to the arena in Individual Open Fences and Flat. Like the rest of the team, Margolis had spent almost the entirety of April working without stirrups, and her preparation showed on the flat when she picked up a fourth place while competing against some of the top riders in the country. Although Margolis had the unenviable position of drawing first in the go for her fences round, she posted a respectable score of 79, which held her in the top ranks until the last few rides but ultimately put her in twelfth place.

Senior Alison Smith in Intermediate Fences (on her first draw)

Heading into day two of competition on Friday, May 3, the Cardinal had yet to post any points on the board, and so the team watched with great anticipation as senior Alison Smith headed into Team Intermediate Fences. Smith was fourth to go in the order and was in the midst of a smooth and forward ride on Goucher’s Gandhi when he spooked halfway through the course and attempted to spin his rider out of the tack. Smith was undeterred, and when the stewards granted her a reride, she found her new mount, came up with a quick plan, and completed a lovely ride that scored in the 80s and earned her a seventh place. Again, however, Stanford had finished one place away from earning a point in the team competition.

Things weren’t looking up for Margolis's luck as she proceeded to draw the #1 spot again for the Cacchione Cup medal class on Friday (Margolis was making her second appearance in the Cacchione Cup, having finished third in 2012 as a freshman). Showing her maturity and poise, Margolis didn’t let the pressure ruffle her and proceeded to put in a confident, smooth, and polished ride that earned an impressive score of 83. The score held her in first place for quite some time, and by the end of 37 rounds Margolis had only dropped three points off the leader, ending the jumping phase with the seventh highest score. When she drew a thin, narrow flat horse the judges scored her conservatively and she finished twelfth in the overall Cacchione Cup Finals, won by Centenary College's Cori Reich.

Although the team had a nice collection of ribbons at the halfway point in the competition, it still had posted zero team points on the board. After lunch on Friday, it was senior Eliza Richartz's turn to show in Team Walk Trot. Richartz was a nationally ranked sailor who spent three years on Stanford's varsity sailing team before walking on to the equestrian team a year ago, in April 2012. Although she was new to the sport and had only finished third at the Zone 8 Finals in Parker, CO, Richartz's work ethic—which led her to ride seven days a week, many times more than once a day and often without stirrups—showed through when it counted most. Even though Richartz had only shown eight times in her career, she rode like a pro, picking up her diagonals and navigating her mount expertly through traffic. As the awards were announced and places called backwards from tenth, her teammates' excitement mounted. When she was announced as the national champion, the entire team let out a loud cheer.

“Our long history of success in Walk Trot shows just how much we value all levels of riders at Stanford,” head coach Vanessa Bartsch said after the win. “Eliza’s dedication was unparalleled and it was so gratifying to see her succeed after so many hours of training with the coaching staff and her teammates at home.” Stanford's success in Walk Trot extends back through the years: Alex Jacobs won national champion in the class in 2009, Elise DeBuysser took reserve champion in 2010, Elise Menke took third in 2007, and Theresa Field took fourth in 2006 (Karen Lone also won the national championship in the Walk Trot individual class).

Stanford's two national champions, Eliza Richartz and Tori Greenen, celebrate with head coach Vanessa Bartsch

The team barely had a moment to celebrate Richartz's victory as sophomore Tori Greenen entered the arena next for Team Walk Trot Canter. Greenen started the season with only nine points in the division and only having showed four times for Stanford. In addition, as a key member of the Stanford dressage team’s postseason squad, she has been one of only two riders showing in two disciplines this year: indeed, she had showed in Lower Training at the Intercollegiate Dressage Association National Finals the weekend before IHSA Nationals, where she finished tenth. Greenen showed off her multi-disciplinary background in Team Walk Trot Canter, putting her horse on the bit and executing an expert ride in a chaotic arena. Though she had ridden a nearly perfect class, all her teammates were holding their breath as the announcer worked his way up the placings. When Greenen was awarded the team’s second national championship, they let out a huge roar in celebration. Greenen's hard-fought points, combined with Richartz's, had moved the team all the way from sixteenth to third place for the day.

Heading into the last day of hunt seat competition on Saturday, only Margolis had yet to make her team class appearance in Team Open Flat and Fences. She calmly walked her course and prepared to draw, confident that she could not pull a third #1 position (the odds of this were over 1 in 9,000). When she looked at her number and saw that it was first again, she didn’t let it phase her, marching in and putting in a beautiful fluid round on Centenary’s King that scored her an 85, as score that would hold until late in the class and would ultimately earn her a third place and four points for Stanford. Going into the last class of the competition, Team Open Flat, Margolis remained focused on the task at hand and drew another Centenary horse, Dennis. In one of the most competitive classes of the show, the judges (Anne and Bobby Braswell of Florida) proceeded to work the riders for 15 minutes without stirrups. Throughout her ride, Margolis looked strong and polished. The judges agreed and awarded her fifth place, giving Stanford two more points and the honor of Reserve National Champion.

Sophomore Claire Margolis in one of her many Open Fences rounds, aboard Centenary's King

“Claire was the model of what a coach hopes her captain will be: calm, focused, incredibly hard-working, self-sacrificing, supportive, and joyful in all of our team's success,” Coach Bartsch said. “I’m so incredibly proud of this entire team and all they accomplished through their hard work and perseverance.” In addition to the team's ribbons and medals, Bartsch was also happy to get a custom tack box from Flexi Equine Trunks as well as reserve champion jackets from the IHSA.

This is the second time Stanford has won reserve champion honors, the first being back in 2006. Unlike the squad in 2006, which was almost all seniors, this young Cardinal roster showed its strength and promise for the future, with riders placing in the top seven in six out of eight classes. The team now looks forward to celebrating the season at the annual year-end awards banquet in late May before transitioning into summer team practices in June.