Senior Hannah Rose was not even scheduled to compete at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) zone championship – let alone nationals.
“I was one point away from regionals last year,” says Rose, a member of the UNC Greensboro Equestrian team. “It was my goal to get to regionals and do my best. If I could do that, I would have been happy.”
A SURPRISE PHONE CALL
Rose ended up placing third in the regional competition, just shy of the second-place spot that would take her to the zones competition – until she received a phone call from her coach.
“A week before zones, my coach reached out to me and said the student who got second place in regionals dropped out of zones,” Rose says. “They needed to know if I could go.”
Rose quickly prepared to go to the sones competition in Maryland, moving her work schedule around to make it happen. It paid off – she placed second in the introductory flat class and qualified for nationals.
“I remember coming out of the ring and our captain gave me the biggest hug,” says Rose. “It was really emotional, and I started crying because I didn’t think I’d get that far.”
The surprises kept coming for Rose. At the national competition in Lexington, Kentucky on May 5, she placed eighth in the individual introductory equitation class.
“Everything has been so surreal,” says Rose. “I still can’t believe I was able to compete at a national level. What makes me the happiest is that I was able to have friends, family, and the best coach cheering me on. Taking eighth place home is just the cherry on top of everything.”
Emily Ann Wright placed first in the intermediate flat class at the Zone 4 competition. She was the only rider from her region to win in an individual class at zones. Wright placed fifteenth in her class at the national competition.
“I’ve been working to get to nationals for about seven years so this has been a big year for me,” says Wright. “I was honored to represent UNCG in Kentucky. There are around 7,000 registered IHSA members so to make it to nationals was an incredible experience.”
AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD
The UNCG equestrian team competes in region five and zone four against nine other colleges in the IHSA. There are eight zones in the IHSA throughout the U.S. At each competition, riders randomly draw a horse to compete with and move through the competitions, from regionals to zones and then two riders from each zone advance to nationals.
“You have to adapt,” says Wright. “It evens out the playing field because, a lot of times, if you have an expensive horse, you’re going to have an advantage.”
The format, Wright says, makes the sport more accessible to everyone, including those who have never ridden a horse before. Rose did trail rides with her family when she was younger but did not have any competition experience before UNCG so it was a learning curve.
“The judges are looking at your positioning and to build those muscles up and have good solid positioning is difficult,” Rose says. “Plus, there is the added anxiety of showing, but the only way to conquer that anxiety is to just get in the show ring more.”
Wright, a drama major with a concentration in acting, has been riding horses for 14 years. When looking for a university, her studies were the number one priority, but equestrian sports was also important.
SENSE OF SCHOOL PRIDE
Both Rose and Wright have been on the team since their first year and each say the community of the sport has kept them involved.
“The team camaraderie we have is remarkable,” says Rose, a senior studying information systems and supply chain management. “I think the team aspect is something that has made me stick with it. Our coach is also really motivating and probably one of the best coaches in the horse world.”
Coach Allison Townley ’02 showed in the open hunter seat equitation class when she was a student competing for UNCG. Townley has coached the team since 2013 and two members also advanced to nationals last year.
For Wright and Rose, the collegiate equestrian world stands out by bringing many different people together in what is typically an individual sport.
“It’s cool to be able to compete as a team and make friends at other colleges throughout your region,” Wright says. “It gives you a sense of school pride,”
Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Emily Ann Wright and Hannah Rose
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