Although last week’s Ivy League Championships ended Cornell equestrian’s team season, three individual riders will be heading off to represent the Red at Nationals.
Seniors Amanda Ko and Claira Seely, along with sophomore Laura Vasquez-Bolanos, all had stellar performances at Zones last month that allowed them each to move forward into the highly competitive individual Nationals tournament.
Every year, hundreds of collegiate riders come from across the country to compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association Nationals. This year’s tournament will be held from May 4 to May 7 in Lexington’s famous Kentucky Horse Park.
Despite the potential added pressure of competing in such an event, head coach Joanna Novakovic is confident in each rider’s ability.
“It’s more the fact that it’s Nationals, especially for the seniors, because it’s kind of their last hurrah,” Novakovic said. “I mean, they always put pressure on themselves; all three of them are very perfectionistic and very motivated and hard workers. I think just the fact that it’s Nationals and it’s the big stage, they put a lot of pressure on themselves, and they just want to perform.”
Since their last official ride for the season was a little over a week ago, each rider has been focusing more on the nuances of her particular event in order to tighten up performance and mentality for Nationals.
“I’ve been trying to prepare them the last couple of weeks by getting in their head exactly what they’re going to be thinking about when they’re riding, so that they can copy that when they go into the ring,” Novakovic said. “It makes it more consistent, like what they’re used to, rather than going in there and thinking ‘Oh my god, this is Nationals, I have to be good.’ They can just think about the same things they always think about when they’re riding.”
Vasquez-Bolanos will be riding in Nationals for the first time in her collegiate career, and she acknowledged the differences in the atmosphere in riding in a highly competitive, individualistic tournament versus a more team-oriented match.
“In the individual [competitions], it’s more personal, and you are responsible for your ride and everything that happens,” she said. “For example, if one of us doesn’t do well, it’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t really affect how we ride, or at least it shouldn’t.”
She will be a contender in Walk-Trot, while Seely will be riding in Novice Flat. Ko is entered as a high point rider in the USEF/Cacchione Cup, meaning that she was the highest scoring member of the Cornell program; she will be competing against the best of the best as a result.
“I think I’m actually more nervous to go in as an individual,” Seely admitted. “Riding as an individual … I’m putting more pressure on myself, I think, because it’s solely for my own gain. I definitely ride as hard, whether I’m riding for the team or just as an individual, but it’s a little bit more nerve-wracking because it’s all on me.”
Ko, who was last seen at Nationals as a sophomore, described the feeling of having all eyes on her as a representative of the Cornell program.
“We’re trying to show the world, or show the nation I guess, that Cornell is still a force to be reckoned with even though there’s three of us,” Ko said. “When we eventually make it there as a team, watch out, here we come.”