A ‘family mentality’ and a strong first-year class has Albion College’s equestrian program looking forward to a promising 2011-12 season.
The program is broken up into three teams. The only school-sponsored team is the Varsity Hunt Seat team. The Dressage team and Western or Stock Seat team are both clubs.
Hunt Seat Team
This discipline features horses jumping fences and walking in “flats”. Riders are judged on their horse’s ease of movement.
One of the biggest changes this season was the amount of new riders who joined the team. This year, the Hunt Seat team accepted a larger team, which means that not every person can ride in every meet.
Though Hunt Seat is an even bigger team, its first-year riders seem to be assimilating well.
“Last year we had a big freshman class and now this year we have another large number so older people are more accepting and we have a good group attitude,” said Lannis Smith, Northville senior and captain of the Hunt Seat team.
In the Hunt Seat’s first show Oct. 9 at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), the Britons grabbed third place out of 11, against much larger schools like Central Michigan University and GVSU. Smith won her division in Intermediate fences, qualifying for Regionals. Heather Waldron, Burt Lake sophomore, won in her Novice division on ‘flats’ as well. The Hunt Seat team also won third place in their second show, Oct. 15 hosted by Western Michigan University.
In addition to larger numbers, another big change is that the Hunt Seat team has a new coach who is currently being trained to take over the team. The current coach, George Halkett, would still remain as director and head instructor of Albion’s barn, but Randi Garnder would take over coaching the Hunt Seat Team.
Smith said there has been a change in the team’s attitude and mentality as well. Riders on this year’s squad are much closer than in past seasons.
“We are much closer as a team, my freshman/sophomore year we really only saw each other at shows, now we go to sports and school events and have movie nights,” Smith said. “We are more positive and supportive as a team and we becoming silly at shows and always cracking jokes.”
The Dressage team trains and competes to have their horse perform specialized moves akin to dancing.
The Dressage Team placed sixth and tenth for their A and B teams respectively during their Oct. 15 show at Michigan State University (MSU). They fared better the next day Oct. 16, grabbing first and sixth for their A and B teams. Strong rides included Paige Gustafson, Dexter first-year, wining with individual high point award the first day and Alyssa Olson, Clarkston junior, who won second place in the lower training division.
The show allowed Coach Danielle Menteer to identify areas where her team can improve.
“After seeing how they stacked up against the other teams last weekend, I think they’re more aware of their weaknesses and even more motivated to step it up a notch in their lessons,” Menteer said. “They know they are capable but it’s an incredibly difficult sport and requires a high level of discipline and they’re ready for that challenge.”
The Dressage team only competes in four shows this season. With two shows out of the way, the riders have two more to get the points needed to qualify for the Intercollegiate Dressage Association.
Robin Todd, San Francisco, Calif. Sophomore, said the team’s strength lies in the variety of its riders.
“We have Lauren (Levy, Ameherst Mass. Senior) who is so versatile and really has the get on and go aspect from being on the Hunt Seat,” Todd said. “There is Paige (Gustafson, Dexter first-year) who has a really strong dressage background and Sam (Green, Algonac sophomore) who has improved so much.”
The Western Team competes in events similar to the Hunt Seat team, but they ride in the Western style, not the English style. They have a “flat” division where riders are judged on their ability to maintain form and control the horse, as well as a higher division called reining, which is more like dressage in that the rider must go through a precise pattern.
In a double header at Saginaw Valley University, the team placed first and fourth. In their home meet at the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center, the Britons again placed first and fourth in a double-header.
Like Hunt Seat, the Western team has had a positive change in mentality.
“We’re closer as a team this year, we all talk to each other and we help each other out,” said Katie Petchell, Pickney junior.
Petchell said the team finished fourth because during the shows they only have one rider that rides for points in each event. So while the Britons had several victories within each division, they weren’t the point riders.
Another change for the Western Team is that their coach, Denise Webber, bought more reigning horses for them to use. Webber owns her own barn in Marshall, MI and let’s the team train there. The horses that are trained in reigning benefit riders like Petchell and Chelsea Utt, Harbor Springs junior, who compete in the reigning division.
The biggest rivals for the Britons this season are Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University.
“They’re (GVSU and MSU) the most competitive in our region,” Petchell said. “We’re the ‘little school’ against all of them.”