Rain didn't dampen the spirits of nearly 180 students (grades 8-12) who traveled from all over the country to be a part of the third annual College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show, January 18-20, at the new Adequan Global Dressage Facility at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida.
The three-day event gives young equestrians a taste of hunt-seat equitation and dressage collegiate competition. They also have the opportunity to be recruited by collegiate equestrian team coaches, speak with representatives from some of the top equestrian colleges about their equine academic degree programs and get expert advice on how to find the academic and/or riding opportunities that will best suit them after graduation.
The CPI kicked off Friday with the opening of the Practical Horseman sponsored College Expo tent. Students then took a written horsemanship test, attended a presentation on Walking a Course and Basic Course Design by CPI Course Designer Pierre Jolicoeur and were given a brief introduction to the various governing associations of collegiate riding. Robert Cacchione and
Peter Cashman spoke about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, Janet Harms about the Intercollegiate Dressage Association, Merrilee Wroten about the American National Riding Commission, and Ellen White on the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Saturday morning's horse draw times started at 6:30 a.m., and hunt-seat competition began at 8 a.m. Judged by Olympian Nona Garson, Ian McCartney, Christina Jones and Beth Nielsen, students competed in Open, Intermediate, Limit and Novice Equitation classes throughout the afternoon both over fences and on the flat. Each wore a colored armband that signified their grade level (black=8th grade, white=freshman, burgundy=sophomore, gray=junior, gold=senior).
I spoke briefly with Nona Garson and Ian McCartney, and they agreed the most difficult part of their job was to create a level playing field with so many horses and riders of varying levels. They also tried to consider that many of these students were catch riding (riding an unfamiliar horse) for the first time. The judges watched the competition horses schooling the day before to help them discern each horse's individual abilities and quirks. On competition day, students were allowed to ask the handlers about the horses before they rode, and in some instances, the handler was the horse's owner. Horses were lent out for the event and some were sale horses looking to find new homes. Sale horses were featured in the event program, and by the end of the event, at least six had trials scheduled.
Brianne Link, a freshman from Long Island, New York, who went on to win the High Point Hunt Seat Rider award, told me after her ride on a horse named Leo that her strategy was to watch the way Leo had been ridden by competitors before her. "I noticed he was a strong horse and that they were riding him a little rough, but I thought he needed a little love, so I softened him up, and it worked."
The dressage competition started at 1 p.m. and was judged by Lauren Sammis. It ran concurrently with the equitation classes. There were a few logistical problems that forced organizers to cancel the last few equitation classes. Show management promised changes would be made to avoid similar problems next year.
Sunday morning dawned warm and sunny as the students assembled for the final presentations and awards. Randi Healthman, an advisor who specializes in equestrian college programs, spoke on "Making the Grade—and the Team: Your College Riding Options Explained." She said that there were 400-plus colleges and universities in the United States and Canada that have intercollegiate equestrian teams, and if you hope to find the right fit for you, you must ask yourself specific questions and create a timeline of when to do what.
Karin Bump, professor at Cazenovia College, spoke on "The Right Program for You! Matching Equestrian Interests with College Options and Degree Offerings." She explained to students that, in addition to the 400-plus colleges with riding teams, there are about the same number of different equine degree options, and there are many ways to combine your passions into a specialized educational program in the horse industry, whether it be in science, business, journalism or education.
CPI creators believe that every student should have the opportunity to be a part of a collegiate team, regardless of finances, and this year they were able to offer more scholarships than ever before. In addition to giving away a $1,100 helmet signed by Olympian Beezie Madden in a drawing, helmet maker and sponsor Charles Owen helped CPI double its High Point Rider Scholarships—allowing them to award High Point Dressage Rider Ashley Guidry (Class of 2013, Elkhorn, Wisconsin) and High Point Hunt Seat Rider Brianne Link (Class of 2016, East Islip, New York) each a $2,000 scholarship to the schools of their choice. Additional scholarships were given for:
• Reserve Hunt Seat Rider: Jessica Hall 11th grade, Verona, New Jersey
• Reserve Dressage Rider: Clare Burke 12th grade, Rolling Hills Estates, California
• Community Service: Alexandra Adams 11th grade, Jacksonville, Florida
• Horsemanship Test: Chloe Hatch, 10th grade, Vero Beach, Florida
• Essay Contest: Cassie Crotty 10th grade, Coral Gables, Florida
While attendees must apply for admission to the three-day program (submitting photos and, for hunt seat, video over fences) and pay their own expenses, support from the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and USHJA Foundation made it possible for Logan Fraser and Emma Karlson to receive a $1,500 travel grant to defray their travel expenses to this year's event.
Applications for the 2014 CPI will be available online June 1, 2013 at www.collegeprepinvitational.com.
For more information on college riding, go to www.equisearch.com/college-directory.