Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
After a victory in their first show of the season and with 11 newcomers joining their ranks, Berry College’s equestrian team is looking forward to an exciting year.
The team began its show season with a Hunt Seat event in Auburn, Alabama, where it beat out 13 other teams to claim first place. Senior Maggie Sanford, captain of the Hunt Seat team, placed first in the Over Fences category for the Open Division, the highest division available, and said the performance was exactly what the team needed to start the season.
“Everybody had some really good rides and we were really supportive of each other, so it was a great way for us to start,” Sanford said. “We really established the attitude for the year and showed that we can work together and accomplished our goals. We did that and we ended up on top Saturday, so it’s exciting.”
With 14 departures and 11 arrivals since last season, head coach Margaret Ellington said this season could be viewed as a rebuilding year, but she believes they still have the talent to perform well.
“We have some very capable newcomers and we’re excited about them,” Ellington said. “I think they can get on anything, some of them, they can get on any horse and they seem to do well with them. They’re eager to work and to ride, so I’m really liking the atmosphere for the newcomers.”
Of the new riders, six are joining the Hunt Seat team and four the Western team, with freshman Rette Solomon competing in both disciplines. With a total of 12 riders on the Western team, newcomers make up nearly half its roster, and senior Hannah Atsma, Western team captain, said this encouraged a focus on building a strong team spirit.
“We’ve really been trying to create a really good bonding environment,” Atsma said. “We want to make sure our freshmen are feeling like they are part of this team, that they are supported. Yes, we do ride individually, but we know that we all are going to ride a lot better if we’re feeling that support from each other.”
Ellington said that, because riders are on their own once they enter the ring, teammate support tends to come either with high-fives before they go in or cheering after the ride is done. Sanford also said this support did not only apply to shows.
“We try to support each other not just while we’re at shows,” Sanford said. “So at practice, when we work out, just whenever, because we’re all stressed, we’re all college students and playing a sport, so we’re just here to help each other out and just keep moving forward.”
While her main focus is integrating the newcomers, Atsma said she still has high hopes for the season.
“I would say the biggest objectives we have are to first off get our freshmen out there, get them comfortable showing, and second to finish strong,” Atsma said. “We’ve got a strong senior class and I know that we all want to give it our all this year and we have a lot of riders who will have the opportunity to qualify individually for regionals.”
And riders are not the only newcomers that have the team excited.
“We also have a few new horses,” Ellington said. “So that’s pretty exciting that we have some new equine athletes, so to speak.”
The equestrian team’s next shows will be hosted at the Gunby Equine Center, with a Hunt Seat event Saturday Oct. 19 and two Western events Sunday Oct. 20.