At the conclusion of their season in February, Albion College’s equestrian Hunt Seat team took first place in the region for the first time.
The regional victory was a first for the team, leaving its members quite ecstatic.
“We were thrilled, especially us upperclassmen,” Voege said. “I don’t think the underclassmen understand how close we were in past years. We’ve always been within 10 points of the leader since I’ve been here, so to be the winner I think was awesome.”
Hunt Seat is one of the three equestrian teams at Albion, the other two being Dressage and Western, but the only Varsity team.
“In Hunt Seat, we do jumping essentially,” said Heather Waldron, Petoskey junior and co-captain.
Meets, or shows, occur throughout a long season.
“It’s a whole year event,” Waldron said. “Tryouts are normally before Labor Day weekend, and then we start training, and then we start showing shortly after that.”
Each show consists of all the schools from the region meeting at one school, which hosts in a rotation. Albion’s region of 14 teams consists of schools in state of Michigan as well as a few schools from Canada. Unlike most sports, there are no divisional rankings based on school size.
“We go against big schools [like] U of M, MSU and GVSU,” said Miranda Voege, Carmel, Ind., junior. “We don’t get divided by how big our school is.”
The competition is tough and big schools like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University often win the region because of their large pool to select riders from.
“Normally we’re in the top three or four, which is really great,” said Katie Pickworth, Columbus, Ohio senior. “Especially considering that we’re competing against teams that have Division I sports in other areas.”
Points are calculated at each show by judges and accumulated over the course of the season. The team with the most points at the end is the winner of the region.
As expected, the season was close this year and Albion won with a margin of just a few points.
“It was actually pretty cool because we had the last show this season at Albion’s barn,” Waldron said. “We had the opportunity to host the last show, and that kind of gave us home field advantage, so we were pretty excited.”
With the regional victory in hand, the team will be going to West Virginia next week for Zones. Zones is the next step up from regions, consisting of the winners of multiple regions. The season-long point accumulation is discarded, and a tournament is used.
“We get there really early, and we watch all the horses warm up,” Voege said. “If they’re going to jump for that day, someone else gets on them and jumps them in the morning, and then we draw a horse’s name out of a hat, and that’s the horse that you ride.”
Horses are supplied by the host school. This means that home field advantage is not just supporters and a familiar facility, but horses that are routinely practiced upon.
“If you’re going to jump it, you get on, and somebody walks you into the ring, and you’re judged immediately,” Voege said. “So you get no practice, no warm up. You walk in and the judge starts looking at you. You’re judged at how good [the jumping] looks and how well you and the horse get along.”
Shows at the college level are different and not how normal showings work. Normally, a rider trains and works with his or her horse and then shows with it. At an away college showing, the rider uses an unfamiliar horse.
“With college, what they want to do is level the playing field and see who is the best rider, and the best rider should be able to get on any horse and make it go around well,” Waldron said. “So the idea is that you have this strange horse that you’ve never ridden before, and they want to see what you can do with it.”
The team is excited for its trip to West Virginia to participate in Zones and winning the region was a big accomplishment with a thrilling ending.
Photo courtesy of Miranda Voege.