Ambitious goals spur equestrian team to success to success

S arah Pearce-Batten '01 has been riding horses since she was five years old, although she didn't get her own horse until she was in high school. "My mom is an avid horsewoman," she says, "so it's always been a part of my life."

With the formation of a new equestrian club and team at Kenyon last spring, Pearce-Batten, of Baltimore, Maryland, now has a way to indulge her love of horses and showmanship while away from home. And, as cocaptain of the nascent team, along with Jessica Eis '99 of Stamford, Connecticut, she has had the thrill of encouraging the team to considerable success in regional competition.

The teaching of horsemanship has a long history at the College. The first School of Equitation was established in 1934 by the Board of Trustees with a generous gift from Robert A. Weaver '12. Captain Frederic Eberle, a former German cavalry officer who had been detained in the United States at the outbreak of World War I and had stayed on after its close, was hired to coach the team. He also taught modern languages at the College. In those days, the equine sport of choice was polo, and Kenyon's teams enjoyed considerable success, winning the Midwest Indoor Championship in 1938.

Today's equestrian club and team members take riding lessons and train for shows at Stoney Creek Stables in Bangs, Ohio, where they are coached by Beth Horvath-Palmer. A graduate of Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, Horvath-Palmer was an Inter-collegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) competitor there. She will graduate from the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine this May. Horvath-Palmer has been passionately devoted to the team, traveling to their last show at Western Michigan University to coach them despite having given birth to her first child just ten days earlier.

The Kenyon team has joined IHSA in order to compete under its auspices. Established in 1967, IHSA promotes competition for riders of all skill levels, who contend individually and as teams at regional and national levels.

The contests are unusual in that no rider may use his or her own horse. All riders are mounted on horses supplied by the host college, each horse being drawn by lot. The use of personal tack is not allowed, and schooling (practice rides)is not permitted. The contestant simply mounts the horse he or she has drawn and rides out. These rules are designed to equalize variable factors of competition and test the ability of the rider and his or her horsemanship skills.

A stipulation of ISHA membership is that each club have a sponsor who is in an official capacity at the college--a member of the administration, faculty, or staff. At Kenyon, this role has been filled by Professor of Psychology Linda Smolak. "I ride, and I have two horses, so I'm very interested in the sport," says Smolak. "This group of kids has worked very hard, and they've been blessed with a wonderful, dedicated coach. Their tremendous success in such a short time is very gratifying for all of us."

The College's most novice rider is Jason T. Apple, a first-year student from West Lafayette, Ohio (near Coshocton). Apple's sisters have horses, but he never took much interest in them until, following his high-school graduation, he spent a year in France as a Rotary Outbound Exchange Scholar. While in France, Apple had an opportunity to go riding on the grounds of the Abbaye de Bellefontaine, a monastery in the Mauges. "It was one of my most memorable experiences in France," he recalls. His interest sparked, he came home and began in earnest to learn to ride.

Apple competes in the walk-trot class on the flat (no jumps). "I'm very impatient," says Apple. "I'm anxious to move up to the next class, but you have to earn a certain number of points in the class you are in before you can do that." In anticipation, he is practicing both cantering and jumping.

Class designations include open, intermediate, novice, walk-trot-canter, and walk-trot, all on the flat. Over-fence classes are held at the open, intermediate, and novice levels. Despite the small size of Kenyon's team, with just nine students, it has competitors in nearly every class.

"The judges are looking at etiquette and safety as well as ability to execute a quiet, sensitive ride on a calm, collected horse," explains Pearce-Batten. "The sport is very much about subtlety and confidence."

The Kenyon team had an excellent first year. The students participated in five meets, three in the fall and two in the spring, and finished fourth of ten teams in the region. The biggest thrill of the season was finishing second in their last meet, ahead of the University of Findlay, which offers majors in both English and western equitation. "Findlay has an enormous program," says Apple. "They have capacity for one hundred and thirty-four horses in their hunter-seat program. Finishing ahead of them was very satisfying." Emily M. Scott '02 of Davis, California, earned High Point Reserve, placing fourth overall in the division with the highest number of points in the jump-flat combined.

In May, two members of the team, Elizabeth "Annie" Layn of Walnut Creek, California, and cocaptain Eis, will graduate. The rest of the group, Anne E. Tyrrell '00 of Playa del Rey, California, Pearce-Batten, Apple, Claire E. Bohnengel '02 of Sylvania, Ohio, Amy L. Czech '02 of Branford, Connecticut, Scott, and Gina M. Sorrentino '02 of Plymouth, Minnesota, is busily recruiting new members both for the team and for the club. Maybe varsity equitation at Kenyon will be more than just a dream.

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