Without a doubt, competing at Nationals goes down as one of the top 10 moments of my life so far. It was one of the greatest experiences I could have ever asked for as a collegiate rider, especially a competitive rider who had given it up in high school only to find she missed it so much she would literally get back in the saddle at Dickinson. It was a dream I didn’t even know I had and hopefully I can do it again.
How do you get to Nationals, you might ask. Last time, I gave you a little break down of all the divisions but I didn’t mention how riders can “point up” into the next division and what that can mean. Over the course of the show season, each individual rider gets points depending on how they place at different shows. Once a certain amount of points is achieved, the rider moves on, and is automatically qualified for Regionals where you compete against all the schools in our region. The top two riders at Regionals from each class qualify for Zones, which is where we, big surprise, compete against all of the schools from our zone. After placing top two at Zones, you move on to Nationals where you compete against riders from all over the country. Make sense?
So, I went to Regionals and won. After that, my coach and I were super excited for zones. I was also kind of terrified. There were so many talented riders and I wondered if I could compete with them—was I good enough? My fear made me decide to go into it with a “just for fun” attitude. And then it happened. I heard, “1st place to Callan Donovan from Dickinson College,” and I was speechless. I had to share the news with someone, so I of course called my mom, and said, probably a little too loudly, “I WON!” This only meant one thing. Next stop, Nationals.
There was no time to really revel in my win. I had to start prepping for Nationals. And that meant lots of work. I started training twice a week. That may not sound like a lot, but juggling all my schoolwork had me going a little crazy. My coach and I were working on making my riding as perfect as it could be. This meant getting rid of all of my bad habits. I do this weird thing where I twist to the right when I’m riding, so I did a lot with my hand on my hip to try and eliminate it. Let’s just say it kind of worked.
Eventually, Nationals arrived. My dad drove all the way from Maine to come and watch me. How cool is that? Sitting in the stands with him was a memory I’ll cherish forever. We even got to meet Bob Cacchione, the founder of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). He told us the story of how he started the IHSA, and listening to him made me feel grateful. He had created something that meant so much to me and so much to so many other college students. Not to mention, he was the nicest guy ever.
Now, it was my turn to ride. I went up to do horse-draw, which is how each rider learns what horse they are riding. It’s completely random. Believe it or not, you drop a ball into this big maze and whatever number it lands on is the corresponding horse we get—like it or not. My horse was named Empire and he was a little less than happy to be there. I got on and made a few tack adjustments so that I was comfortable. Next thing I knew, I was in the ring with the loud speaker saying, “You are now being judged at the walk.” This was it. This was the moment I had worked so hard for.
I followed all the directions and before I knew it, I was dismounting and waiting for the results. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might jump out of my chest. Eventually, they got to 10th place and I heard my name. At first, I was a little disappointed, but then I remembered how lucky I was to have even had this opportunity. It was a story that I could hold onto forever.
This may be my story, but it also tells a lot about our team. Everyone works hard, and it’s not easy. A lot goes into it, and often nothing measurable like a win comes out of it. Sometimes, there’s no explanation why. It’s just the way it is. But no matter what, the team is supportive of each other, and this is what being a part of the team should be about. That’s why I chose to be a part of the Dickinson equestrian team.