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Monday, May 20, 2024

Middlebury Equestrian ends a successful season ranked fourth in the region

Middlebury equestrian team riders Anika Jessup ’23 and Sage Mauri ’23 with coach Kate Selby at the Zone 1 Championship.
Middlebury equestrian team riders Anika Jessup ’23 and Sage Mauri ’23 with coach Kate Selby at the Zone 1 Championship.

The Middlebury Equestrian team finished a strong season with several riders reaching the Zone 1 Championship. This is the first season when Middlebury’s Equestrian riders qualified for the Regional Finals (Regionals) and Zone Finals (Zones) since 2019.

At Zones, the competition is exponentially tougher compared to regular season shows. Co-Captains Anika Jessup ’23 and Sage Mauri ’23 placed fifth in Novice and 10th in Limit Fences, respectively — both showing well in their classes.

“Zones are a challenge,” Head Coach Kate Selby said. “Schools with huge teams have a much larger pot of riders to choose from. Those that advance to Zones and then Nationals are already riding at a certain level outside of college and generally have more experience. This is mostly not true for our team.”

Throughout the season, riders accumulate points at local shows in order to qualify for the Regional Finals in their respective divisions. Under the IHSA, riders must qualify for postseason competitions through a point system. The top two riders in each class of Regionals move on to Zones, and from there, the top two competitors in each class qualify for Nationals. Regionals, Zones and Nationals are all considered postseason shows, and they provide a platform for riders to showcase their skills at increasingly competitive levels.

“It was awesome to be riding against such competitive riders at Zones. We’re kind of tucked away up here in Vermont, but it’s nice when we get to travel and connect with other schools in our region and other schools in our zone,” Mauri said.

Three riders competed in four classes at Regionals in March, which was held at ​​Whishmaker Stables in New Hampshire. Mauri placed second in limit fences, and Jessup won the novice division, securing both advancements to Zones. Maya Henning ’25 showed well in a tough class with two spectacular rides in intermediate limit fences and intermediate limit flat. She earned two third-place finishes, narrowly missing out on qualification. In addition, Henning and Jessup, alongside Olivia Rooney ’25 and Brenae’ Ervin ’26 competed in the team cup challenge putting out strong rides.

“Regionals was a lot of fun. We had a double-header show at Whishmaker two weeks before Regionals, so we were pretty used to the facility and the horses. I was really happy with how everyone did,” Jessup said.

Middlebury Equestrian has 25 riders from diverse backgrounds with ranging levels of experience. The team rides at Eddy Farm School, located just five minutes from campus, under the guidance of Selby and Assistant Coach and Farm Manager, Margaret Bojanowski. Selby has been coaching the team since its establishment in 1994.

They compete in Zone one, Region two through the International Horse Shows Association (IHSA) — the largest collegiate equestrian sports governing body in the United States. Their zone includes competition against schools throughout the broader New England region, while Regionals involves teams from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as a team based in Boston.

With the bulk of shows taking place in October and November, the Middlebury Equestrian team is now finishing a very successful season, ranking fourth in the region. Co-Captain Tess Hegarty ’25.5 explained that despite not having a fully stacked roster, the team performed exceptionally well and was only bested by schools with larger, well-funded varsity programs. During their regular season shows, 42% of their finishes were first or second, on par with the rate from top schools. Additionally, they were able to fill six out of eight divisions this year, which is an improvement from the five out of eight they filled last year. Their goal is to have a full roster for all eight divisions by next season.

Middlebury Equestrian has grown tremendously over the past year as they worked to return to normalcy following the pandemic.

“During Covid-19, it was pretty challenging to organize team events — even our practices were super limited,” Mauri said. “I think this year has been so positive for the team, and I think it’s been reflected in our riding and our relationship with our coaches and each other too.”

Connection and community have grown alongside the team’s competitive success.

For riders, like Henning, who come from cutthroat high school riding programs, the team offers a welcoming and supportive space for students to work towards their personal best and have fun in the process.

“Being able to have that time in my day where I get to go to the barn and do something that I love, and also getting to share that passion with people at this school, that I otherwise wouldn’t meet, are my favorite parts of the team,” Hegarty said.

As the team has grown, they have become more cohesive.

“I will say, this group has been the most inclusive and cohesive that we’ve ever had, which is saying a lot,” Selby said.

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