April 24, 2013

EQUESTRIAN | Riders Win Ivy League Title Over Princeton

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The equestrian team went out with a bang after its victory at the Ivy League Championships in Hanover, N.H. on April 13. Cornell took first place with 37 points, just three points ahead of Princeton. The squad also triumphed over Ivy rivals Brown and Dartmouth, who placed third and fourth with 33 and 29 points respectively. The Ivy League Championship is an annual competition between the eight members of the Ivy League that does not factor into the teams’ regular season scores. Most of the Ivy League equestrian teams do not compete against each other during the season. This year, the competition was hosted by Dartmouth. The home team usually has an advantage because the riders are able to compete on the horses they practice with, but Dartmouth had not been able to practice consistently before the competition due to the harsh winter, according to senior tri-captain Emily Kowalchik. “Their barn is up in the mountains, so over the winter they [are] hardly ever able to get to the barn because of the weather,” she said. “We probably had a leg up on them in that we’ve been practicing pretty consistently, whereas they just got back in the swing of things.”In addition to the team’s success, the Red also had four individual Ivy League champions. Sophomores Caitlin Parucci and Mary Beth Hannon were named champions in intermediate fences and novice flat, respectively, while Kowalchik and junior Alyx Cheng took the winning ribbons in open flat and open fences. Cornell has not competed at Dartmouth since the 2010 Ivy League Championship, so only the current seniors had experience there. The veterans remembered struggling with Dartmouth’s horses, so the squad prepared for a challenging competition. “We went in with very low expectations because the last time we were at Dartmouth, the horses were really a struggle for us,” Kowalchik said. “Because we had prepared for the worst, we performed better when the horses ended up being better than we thought.”The younger riders had been told that a lot of Dartmouth’s horses were very short, which can be challenging for the taller riders. “It was definitely a lot better than I had expected,” Hannon said. [T]he seniors had been there their freshman year and said that [Dartmouth] didn’t have a horse over 15 hands [high], so a lot of the taller girls were worried that they were going to draw a pony and get stuck with it … but there were some really nice horses.”As it turned out, Dartmouth had replaced most of its horses since the last time the Red had competed there, according to Kowalchik. The Cornell riders got along well with the new horses and experienced pleasant rides. “He was just really simple,” Parucci said of her mount. “Everything about him was just … easy. It was fun. The ring was so tiny so the turns were super fast and you had to get your [lead] changes really quickly.”Lead changes are very important when it comes to the fences divisions. When a horse canters, one of his front legs moves slightly ahead of his other three; this is the leading leg. The leg that should be leading switches when the rider decides to change direction. When jumping a course of jumps, the horse and rider much switch direction constantly, so being able to get a smooth lead change is important. “One of the things that we really struggle with in our region is a lot of the horses that we draw don’t have [lead] changes,” Cheng said. “I feel like that’s adeciding factor in a lot of places. If you can get a clean change and a smooth ride across the board, that will put you over someone who maybe is a little trickier but has really messy ends and changes. All of these horses had really nice changes, so that was one less thing you had to worry about.”Since the teams in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association do not take their own horses to each competition, the IHSA is all about adapting to the horse that you are given. The riders must be able to succeed on horses that they have never seen before. “It was nice to walk into a program where we had no idea what any of the horses were like [and] we had no idea what any of the riders were like. … It was nice to walk into that and do really well,” Cheng said.“It’s what IHSA is all about,” Hannon added.Since the Red lost its regional competition and was unable to advance to zones or nationals as a team, the squad was able to put all of its focus into Ivies.  “We were all just really focused, everyone was working really hard,” Cheng said. “Since we didn’t have anything else on the line — our bid for nationals was over — so that’s all we were focusing on.” For Kowalchik and the rest of the seniors, the show marked a perfect ending to their careers with the Red. Kowalchik really saw all of her hard work pay off. “All year, Todd has been working with me more on the flat than anything else because I just had some habits that formed over time,” she said. “Because Todd came in and had a completely different perspective, it’s kind of nice that something he’s been working directly with me on paid off in the last show.”The rest of the team also saw everything finally come together.“Change is always going to affect you and it really took us some time to hit our stride,” Cheng said. “I think we finally hit our right balance.”

Original Author: Ariel Cooper