At the IHSA Regional show for Zone 1, Region 3 (Western Mass) March 30, hosted by Smith College at Stoneleigh Burnham School, the Novice Hunter Seat qualified riders faced tough competition with 13 attempting to progress to Zones by achieving the first or second-place prize. Seven riders were called back for the final heat, and four were tested from the seven.
Then, the judge asked for two riders to switch horses and do the test again. Those two riders were both sophomores, Alexandra Ferris, 20, from Ipswich, Massachusetts, a member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst team and Elizabeth Sams from Atlanta, Georgia, a Mount Holyoke College team member. They finished their class and were awarded first and second respectively.
Alexandra Ferris surrounded by teammates. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Ferris
“We’ve always gone head to head in first or second,” Ferris said of Sams. “She’s been the one that has made me the better rider. She has made me work harder.”
The following Monday, the judge called the regional president, Tara Lowary, to tell her that she had made an error in the placings. When she called the final two for the work off, she had been testing for the second and third-place ribbons. Her first place had not needed another test. But she placed that rider in third place erroneously.
When the zone chair, C.J. Law and the national steward, Sherri West were consulted, it was decided that there was precedent for making the change official. With Sara Hearn of Mount Holyoke claiming the first-place spot, Ferris moved to second and Sams was bumped to third. This meant Sams would no longer qualify for Zones.
“I’d already had a spot over fences and Libby worked just as hard as I did and she deserves just as much as I did, to go to zones and have a chance at nationals. It was worth it to give her a spot and we’ve become good friends”.
Alexandra Ferris and her competitor Elizabeth Sams. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Ferris
In an incredible act of sportsmanship, Ferris declined her place in Novice Hunter Seat Equitation on the flat. She said that she thought Sams deserved to compete at Zones. With Ferris’ qualifying for Novice over fences, she gave her Novice flat qualification to Sams, her competitor from another team.
“I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Ferris said. “She had been working just as hard as I have all year.”
“It was out of the goodness of her heart because we were competitors. We were very friendly to each other, but we were competitors,” Sams said. “She gave me something that I had worked so hard for. And for her to give me that opportunity–it was awesome. And now I have a great friendship.”
Ferris’ thoughtfulness impressed Sams’ coach, C.J. Law. “Talk about a whole different level of sportsmanship,” she said. “It was just unbelievable.”