While the rest of the school was finishing up some of their final lectures, three of the Cornell’s very own were on their way to Lexington, KY to represent the Red in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Champion.
“I was really honored to be there,” said senior Amanda Ko. “The founder of IHSA — Bob Cacchione — made a point of saying that there’s 10,000 riders in IHSA and only 450 of them made it to Kentucky, and I think that was a moment we all kind of stopped and [said], ‘Wow, no matter how we play, it’s awesome just to be here.’”
The three Cornell riders at Lexington shared sentiments of awe and fulfillment.
“If you’re a horse person, your dream is to go to the Kentucky Horse Park,” said senior Claira Seely. “It’s a pretty competitive but also really good atmosphere, because I think everyone there is just really happy and proud to be there.”
Ko and Seely, along with sophomore Laura Vasquez-Bolanos, earned their spots in the individual Nationals through their strong performances at the Zone Championships last month.
Seely merited a spot in the Novice Flat event for Nationals after she took second in that event during Zones. After a first place finish in Walk Trot at Zones, Vasquez-Bolanos attained a slot in the same event at Nationals. Ko finished in first place for the Cacchione Cup at Zones, which ultimately ended up sending her to Kentucky. The Cacchione Cup is a two-part event that is comprised of each region’s high point riders vying for the title.
“It really feels like kind of the culmination of a full year of work,” said head coach Joanna Novakovic. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting; there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance.”
Each of the singular events were composed of ten riders. Seely competed on the first day of Nationals in the Novice Flat event and, while facing off against her nine other competitors, finished fifth in the event.
Vasquez-Bolanos and Ko rode on the second day of the competition. Vasquez-Bolanos ended up placing sixth in Walk Trot.
As part of the Cacchione Cup, Ko and her opponents rode fences and flat events specifically for these high point riders. After her fences ride, Ko was called back to ride in flat, earning her a spot in the top 24 for the Cup. By the end of the third day of the competition, she had finished in 24th, an amazing feat when competing against several dozen of the highest point-earning riders in regions across the nation.
“I just went in and enjoyed the ride,” Ko said. “When else am I going to get to ride in the Kentucky Horse Park … at collegiate Nationals?”
Like Ko, Seely had been to Nationals before, and the opportunity to compete at this level again was a great experience to add to her senior year.
“Last year, I was just really excited to go to Nationals, because we qualified as a team — that was my first time,” Seely said. “But I think this time … I was certainly more nervous … because I wanted to do as well as I’d done last year. It was definitely nice to go back and witness the feel again.”
Coach Novakovic was satisfied with everyone’s performances, especially while riding in a highly-competitive tournament.
“I think they did the best they could’ve done on that day, so we were all happy with the trip and we all feel good about it,” Novakovic said. “It just gives us motivation for next year.”
With Nationals wrapped up, the full season for the Cornell equestrian program has concluded.
Despite a disappointing third place finish at Zones that prevented the team from heading to Nationals as a whole program, the Red proved to be a strong presence at every tournament they attended or hosted.
First and second place team finishes were scattered across Cornell’s season schedule. Also, the team finished the season on a high note with a perfect score for first place at the Ivy League Championships.
A good chunk of the team will be graduating in two weeks, but the Red, including its seniors, is as confident in their potential as ever.
“I think the team is set up for success. I think we have a really good team culture and team dynamic,” Seely said. “I think we really have left an impression on the team, both on our coach and on the underclassmen. I think that the positive things we’ve contributed to the team as a class will stay for the future.”