Anyone who has spent time around horses knows that there”s far more that goes on at a show besides just the events in the ring. As a sophomore member of the Otterbein University collegiate equestrian team, it was my job, along with the rest of my non-competing teammates to manage anything and everything that went on outside of the arena at the 2011 Tournament of Champions PreSeason Classic.
Otterbein University had the privilege of hosting this prestigious show, where 20 collegiate equestrian teams from around the country competed for the championship title in Westerville, Ohio. On Saturday, Sept. 24, schools including Cornell, Purdue, University of Wisconsin, Virginia Intermont, Miami University and others arrived at Otterbein University”s Center for Equine Studies ready to ride.
Otterbein provided horses for the show, which was structured similarly to most Intercollegiate Horse Show Association sanctioned events. However, the competition was on such a large scale that it required not only a community effort, but also the help of other colleges that loaned horses for competition use. Even some of Otterbein”s boarders, including myself, offered up their own horses for use. The following is an account of my experience as a member of Otterbein”s collegiate equestrian team and our behind-the-scenes role of running the show.
4:45 a.m. came far too quickly on the morning of our show. As I reached to turn off my alarm, only one word came to mind: caffeine. Still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, a few of my teammates and I left our dorms early enough to make a quick pit stop in order to pump ourselves full of coffee and sugar. Even though we weren”t riding, we had a day full of duties ahead of us that included grooming, tacking, hand walking and lots of running from one end of the barn to the other. To make this show run, we all needed to have a good dose of caffeine coursing through our veins.
By the time we arrived at the barn, there was already a flurry of activity. Shavings, coolers and tack were flying in all directions as students scurried around to get the barn prepped for the day and the horses ready for schooling.
The first few batches of horses that went out in the ring to school were those that would be jumping and were followed by those that were in flat classes. Schooling for the over-fences horses went smoothly, although getting each horse in the ring at exactly the right time posed a bit of a challenge. Keeping track of 52 horses (and approximately 50 clueless freshmen) is no simple task.
Among other duties for the day, my main job consisted of schooling, holding and tacking/untacking my own horse, Kat. I was anxious to see how my hot-headed diva of a mare would respond to an indoor packed with people in noisy metal bleachers. Luckily, she knows when it”s show time, so she puffed up, put on her game face and took everything in stride. I”ll even admit that as just a schooling rider, my stomach got a little fluttery as I was riding in a ring with such an electric atmosphere. The smell of freshly painted jumps, Show Sheen and boot polish hung in the air and there was no denying that it was indeed a show day at Otterbein.
While I was in the arena, I got a good view of the bleachers where different schools had hung their banners and teams were seated. Seeing Cornell, Purdue and Mount Holyoke”s banners gave me a real appreciation for the variety that the competition attracted.
A few of our horses proved to be a little on the squirrely side as they let out a few playful bucks during the first couple flat classes. Even our normally comatose upper level dressage schoolmaster, Pedro, had the energy to throw in a few tempi changes down the long sides of the arena though it wasn”t quite the time or the place.
Throughout the day, we stayed busy on our feet. There was a steady flow of horses in an out of the arena and constant shuffle throughout the barn. I think it”s safe to say that anyone who was caught in a sitting position was met with a pointed glare or two, unless it was a horse that they were sitting on.
In the ring, there was a fair display of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maintaining your wits around a course at a show is a challenge enough in itself but doing it on a completely unfamiliar horse with no warm up time is even more nerve-wracking. Oh, the challenges of collegiate horse shows! I”ve decided that this method of testing riders” abilities has a polarizing effect in the sense that it makes the less competent riders look worse and the more competent ones look even better. Overall, everyone who competed was obviously well qualified and those that didn”t have pretty rides were more than likely just having a bad day.
The last class of the day was the Tournament of Champions Medal Fences phase, where eight riders completed a course. The top five were later called back for the Final Testing Phase, which was the most highly anticipated moment of the day.
The competition came to a close around 4:30 p.m., when final scores were quickly tallied so that ribbons could be presented and some teams could catch their plane flights home.
Miami University placed first among the teams, followed by Virginia Intermont”s Gold Team. There was a three way tie between Otterbein, University of Massachusetts, and Virginia Intermont”s Black Team, but it was broken by the team who earned the most first place ribbons. University of Massachusetts placed third, followed by Virginia Intermont”s Black Team in fourth, and Otterbein”s Otter Trotters in fifth. Otterbein”s Cantering Cardinal”s placed sixth, followed by Mount Holyoke in seventh and Virginia Tech”s Enter Sandman Team in eighth. Other schools that participated were Cornell, University of Louisville, University of Michigan, Northern Illinois University, Ohio University, Purdue, West Virginia University, University of Wisconsin and Xavier University.
Danielle Clark of Virginia Intermont was the winner of the Tournament of Champions Medal. Second place went to Kelly Mallery of University of Wisconsin.
As the teams posed for pictures, the rest of the Otterbein crew was either back in the barn poulticing and wrapping horses” legs, cleaning tack or dragging jumps out of the ring.
I usually pick on my roommate (a pre-vet major who INSISTS on getting a solid 10 hours of sleep every night) for going to bed before midnight on a college campus. The night after our show, however, I imagine that there was probably a smirk on her face as she found me passed out in my bed by 8:30 p.m.