Last weekend college students from across the southeast went head-to-head for another intercollegiate challenge title. This challenge was hosted by Poplar Place Farm in Hamilton, Ga. November 7-8th. The scholastic eventers toughed it out through ‘hell and high water’, literally, as rainfall in the days before and throughout the weekend was unrelenting. This was Poplar Place Farm’s first time hosting a team challenge because of the cancellation of the Chattahoochee Hills October H.T., the usual collegiate challenge host venue.
University of South Carolina at Aiken (USC Aiken) took their first Championship title, finishing nearly 20 points ahead of the second place team on a total score of 124.1. Auburn University claimed the Reserve Champion title with their team score of 140.1. Hot on their heels in third place was the combined team of Columbus State University and Auburn University with their score of 144.6.
Teams competing in the challenge included the University of Georgia Eventing Team, Auburn University Eventing, University of South Caroline at Aiken, Columbus State University, University of Kentucky Dressage and Eventing Team, University of North Georgia Eventing Team, Clemson University Eventing Team, and University of Alabama Eventing Team. This event had one of the highest participations of colleges and universities to date.
On the collegiate stage, the USC Aiken team is still young and developing. “One of our team goals for this academic year was to field teams for one Team Challenge per semester, but with all of the complications of just being a young team what we didn’t actually plan for was winning it,” exclaimed team president Manon Quilodran. “The competition itself was daunting to say the least. We were a small town school against established schools like UGA, Auburn and Clemson.” Quilodran competed on her horse Orison alongside he teammates Nicole Wisniewski on Mainstay and Brendan Quinn on Smoke. Besides their new status in the collegiate scene and the unforgiving weather, the USC Aiken team also lacked the comfort of a drop score because of their three member team. In collegiate challenges, ideally, there are teams of four to account for one drop score. Quilodran accounts that this reduced margin for error was top of mind for the entire team. “We were exempted from the drop score like other teams with four members. Needless to say the pressure was on before we even reached the stabling grounds,” Quilodran described.
After the first day of competition USC Aiken sat in second place. Quilodran described the show jumping course as being “tough as nails,” as many competitors had rails throughout the day. As for cross-country day, the monsoon-like atmosphere did not leave Quilodran and Wisniewski feeling confident. “Brendan Quinn was the ‘old pro’ talking us all off a ledge before cross country in the pouring rain,” Quilodran laughed. His confident attitude coached the team to complete the weekend with no cross-country jump penalties. Besides their successful weekend as a team, Quinn finished second and Wisniewski finished fourth out of individual college riders. Quilodran was thrilled with her team and looks forward to future team challenges. “I know we here at USC Aiken are looking forward to more team competitions and more chances to connect with other college students who share our passion for this sport. This is the perfect way to grow our sport on the national collegiate stage and we are excited to be a part of it,” she beamed.
Auburn representative Sallie Johnson experienced great successes both with her team and individually on One Moore Miracle. “Our team went into the competition with a very laid back mindset and our goal was really just for everyone to finish and have safe rides. To finish in second in a lot of rain and mud was a big accomplishment for us as a team and I'm so lucky to have been a part of it,” Johnson acknowledged. Johnson also won her training rider division and was named the top placing collegiate rider individually after adding only .4 penalties to her dressage score. Her teammate Kristen Horn, who used the challenge as a move-up opportunity, also had a successful weekend despite the weather. “Our goal was small: don't fall off. Luckily, we finished the weekend with only a few time faults despite the rainy weather,” Horn gleamed.
The University of Georgia (UGA) had the highest number of members competing in the challenge. This made everyone’s weekend a team effort. “UGA has definitely grown as a team and it made me super happy to see how far we have come since the first year. When one person would come in from cross-country, the whole team would help untack, take studs out, and cool the horse down,” team president Kaitlyn Ruff explained. She has been involved with the UGA Eventing Team since the beginning and has been an integral piece of the team’s growth. “Despite the weather, I feel like this was the best College Challenge yet! There were many universities present all with very competitive riders. I think college Eventing has such a bright future. College riders were in the top of every division offered. It is very exciting to be a part of," Ruff stated. UGA had three teams present who finished in fourth, sixth, and eight place. President Ruff also represented UGA being the sixth highest placed collegiate rider individually.
In the midst of the rain and competition, students reaffirmed the helpful nature of eventers. Sallie Johnson explained this by saying, “One of the reasons I love Eventing is that, at the end of the day, most of us are really just competing against ourselves to do better and that was really shown with great sportsmanship. People on every team that had already tackled the cross-country were giving people on other teams a heads up about where the footing was bad, how combinations were riding, how tight the time was to make, etc. Not many sports are like that and this weekend made me happy to be a part of this one.”
About The USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program
Officially approved by the USEA Board of Governors in 2014, the Intercollegiate Eventing Program exists as an effort to encourage continuing education while persuing excellence in the Olympic sport of Eventing. The program was due much to the dedication of the Intercollegiate Eventing League, which provided a framework on which Eventing teams and individual competition could flourish at Universities and Colleges across the country. Collegiate athletic programs have been the training grounds for Olympians, amateur athletes, and professional athletes for generations.
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