UW Equestrian leaps to new heights

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An equestrian team may not be the first thing one might associate with the University of Waterloo, but the school&rsquo;s Equestrian Club has raised its profile with another successful season, culminating in an Ontario West Championship. Thanks to strong performances from riders in all levels of competition, the team was able to amass the most points out of any Ontario West team for the season. After finishing top four in the eight-team zone in three out of the past four years, the team surged to a first place finish in 2014-2015. Leading the field as they entered the finals on the weekend of Mar. 21, the team held onto their cushion to take home the large High Point Team trophy and a number of incredibly oversized ribbons for individual riders.</p>

University equestrian competition is overseen by the Ontario University Equestrian Association, which sets the complex rules and points system that helps make the sport such a unique part of university athletics (besides the horses, that is). Each team in a zone hosts one competition every season, to which all teams send up to three riders for each of the divisions of competition: entry, novice, intermediate, and expert. Horses are provided by the hosting team, which adds a layer of strategy for each club as they must account for the peculiarities of unfamiliar horses and advise one another on the behaviour of horses that riders may have encountered before. Though dealing with a new horse can be difficult, the team’s veterans help newer riders with the transition. “The biggest thing is to be confident in yourself as a rider,” said UW Equestrian captain Caitlin Hughes. “If you’re relaxed and calm, the horse will be relaxed and calm. You just have to let things happen: it may not be a perfect trip, but it may be the best trip on that horse.”

Competition includes jumping classes — which unsurprisingly involve navigating a course with jumps — and flat classes — a demonstration of a rider’s skill and grace as they manoeuvre their mount at different speeds. Each team then chooses one “point rider” per division, whose points will actually count towards that team’s championship aspirations. This is to give smaller teams a chance to accrue points at the same rate as schools with more riders available. The point rider element adds a further level of strategy to the competition, as captains try to anticipate which of their riders will have success on a given day, course, or horse.

Teams from the two zones only encounter one another at finals. The top eight riders in each class (flat and jumping) from each zone (East and West) are invited to compete. Only four horses are available for the competition, and the top performer on each horse moves into a further level of competition: the ride-off. In a ride-off, all four remaining riders compete using the same horse. Scores at finals not only count towards who wins High Point Team for that competition, but are also added to teams overall season scores, meaning that a good finals for a second or third place team could help that team win a season.

Fortunately for UW, that was not to be, and a second-place finish at finals (after East Zone High Point Team Ottawa) meant that the team was able to stave off threats from west zone second-place Guelph and third-place Western. “Top four was Waterloo, Guelph, Western, and Laurier,” said Hughes. “So all four of us were sort of battling it out all season.”

The team’s success was thanks to excellent seasons from riders in all four divisions. Riders from UW placed in the top three for the season in every division, and two riders won their division championship (most points among riders in their division): Elyse Batista in the open (or expert) division, and Kelly Manning in the intermediate division. Batista was the High Point rider across all West zone divisions, and took the open division championship at finals. Manning also won her division at finals.

Other top contributors include Beth Trinkwon, who won the entry division season reserve championship (second place among riders in the division), Teri-Lyn Hasted, who finished second in the entry division at finals, and Hannah Ellingham, who finished third overall in the novice division and won West Zone Supporter of the Year for donating horses to competitions. Ellingham’s horse Roxy also won West Zone Horse of the Year.

The club does more than just attend events as a team. Lessons are provided at two local barns, and club members can participate in training activities like equestrian-focused fitness (think core and leg workouts). Many of the teams’ riders initially joined the club and transitioned into competition after some riding experience. “One of our entry riders, Keegan McCallum, he started out as a member of the club, learned how to ride in the club, and this year he rode on the team and was twelfth overall in the entry division,” said Hughes.

Hughes stressed the club’s close-knit and energetic feel: “It’s not your regular horse show, it’s very spirited. We wear face paint, we cheer for our riders … it’s a really fun atmosphere. If you’re interested in horses and feel like you’re not going to be able to ride at school, it gives you an opportunity. I’ve met a lot of great people.”

The article has been edited to clarify that Guelph and Western had placed second and third respectively in the west zone.

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