Welcome to a new series on Jumper Nation featuring bloggers from around the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) who are kindly willing to share the ins and outs of being college students, athletes, and horse show junkies 365 days a year. Sure beats the britches off of being in a sorority, if you ask us! For a crash course in what the IHSA is all about, click here. If you’re a current IHSA competitor who would like to contribute, please email our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, Chloe Bellerive from the University of Kentucky Hunt Seat Team introduces us to her team’s Walk/Trot rider, Rachel Dunay, and explains why finding a good one is truly like finding your own real-life unicorn!
Often times when watching or following IHSA teams and riders, the focus tends to be on the higher level competitors such as Open level riders or those that compete in the Cacchione Cup, or those in Novice or Intermediate levels that compete in the over-fences classes.
In fact, teams are made up of many riders at different levels. Some ride only on the flat, while others ride on the flat and over fences. Many factors go into to determining what level you are eligible to ride at. This is based off of your prior experience, and your show record at recognized shows. It also takes into consideration whether you have a trainer and how long you have been riding. For those who have shown at a recognized shows, your level will be determined by what levels you competed in and what placings you had at those levels. You will then be slated into Novice, Intermediate, or Open levels.
But what if you don’t have a show record? What if you never had a trainer? What if you have never competed, but you have ridden with some instruction? What if you have never ridden, EVER?
For these riders, there are rules set in place to determine what level on the flat they are eligible for. It seems simple enough, right? Well, not so much; for the team, the coach, or the rider. Think about it — you have many people trying out for the team, you have only so many spots open at each level and rules to go by. It’s much like putting together a puzzle.
Often times the lower levels are the most competitive, and sometimes there are no riders eligible to fill the level. To be successful, you want as many riders possible riding at each and every level. For each level there is a point rider chosen and their points that they earn with their ride count toward the team points for that level for the day of competition. This is why you want at least one rider in each level of flat and over fences.
Ultimately what this means is that it can be very tricky to recruit a walk/trot division rider. They can’t have more than six months of instruction before joining the team, and they can’t have any competition experience where a canter or lope was required. Most riders who are interested in riding on a team have ridden much more than that before they come to college. This makes it very challenging to find riders eligible for this level.
This is what makes having Rachel Dunay as our Walk/Trot rider so incredible. She had NEVER ridden before she joined our team. Yes, you read correct, NEVER. In fact, she had never really spent any time around horses. She stepped up to this opportunity after being asked, with no experience, a willing attitude, happy to learn and give of herself and hours of her time, standing around supporting her teammates in a sport she knew nothing about.
She willingly climbs onto a 1200-pound animal learning how to ride in a very competitive sport all with a smile on her face while being critiqued for her placing in the one class she rides in at the very end of the day. It has been unbelievable to watch her transform and improve as a rider. If you consider that she had only three lessons before our first competition, and even now after completing our first half of the season, she truly has ridden less than twenty times between shows and lessons.
To watch her is to love her, and we certainly do. She is the epitome of the true meaning of sportsmanship. She is the thread that pulls our team together as we all gather around the ring to cheer her on. And the biggest secret of all is that the Walk/Trot riders are often the difference between winning Champion or Reserve Champion as a team as these are the last, but certainly not the least, important points that are calculated and make or break a win.
Rachel just takes it all in stride, setting the best example with a smile on her face truly enjoying the ride. So while each and every rider, and each level is important and integral to the team for success, the Walk/Trot riders are invaluable. Don’t forget to thank your Walk/Trot riders! We are all so proud and thankful for her.