January 9, 2010 -- The Stephens College Department of Equestrian Studies was host to an International Saddle Seat Invitational competition with South Africa December 11-12, 2009. The event was patterned after the Saddle Seat World Cup competition, which consists of five countries fielding two teams each. Saddle seat is typically an individual discipline, so team competition requires strategy, which enhances the challenge.
South Africa brought two teams to Stephens for the event--a three-gaited team and a five-gaited team. Riders were assigned to horses by drawing names out of a hat. The teams had two 30-minute practice sessions to get to know their mounts prior to the competition. The event included a rail segment as well as individual workouts. Team scores were calculated using the Majority Judging System, which averages the scores for each rider under each of the three judges. All riders were judged collectively in their division on the rail and individually performing a solo workout. The three-gaited teams walked, trotted and cantered. The five-gaited teams walked, trotted, cantered, slow gaited and racked both ways of the ring.
The Stephens College Invitational Teams emerged victorious, earning gold medals in both the three- and the five-gaited team events. The three-gaited team was formed by Nicole Lawrence, Mandy Martin, Kahla Buthlay, Sarah Hinds and alternate Natalie Stezovsky. The five-gaited team was formed by Natalie Stezovsky, Mandy Martin, Kahla Buthlay, Lauren Sopel and alternate Erin Hartman.
Ellen Beard, team coach and coordinator of equestrian operations at Stephens College, said the Stephens teams, whose members are students in the college's equestrian studies program, practiced tirelessly to achieve their best against a talented group of experienced international riders.
"I am pleased and very excited," said Beard. "The competition was very stiff and brought the best out in the riders. Our South African friends graciously announced at the closing reception that this invitational was exceptional. The quality of hospitality, horses and sportsmanship was excellent. They marveled at all of the opportunities available at Stephens."
The Stephens invitational event served as a prelude to the application and trials process for the Saddle Seat World Cup event to be held in Lexington, Ky., in October 2010.