Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
On Jan. 9, the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) announced the cancelation of the 2021 IHSA postseason, including the Hunter Seat Zone Finals, Western Semi-Finals and the National Championship Horse Show. The IHSA board of directors came to this decision after meeting virtually Jan. 5-7 to discuss the future of the 2021 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We operate under the IHSA and they’re kind of our governing body whereas other division three sports are under NCAA,” head coach Margaret Ellington said. “We got word that we weren’t going to have a postseason, so no national competitions, semifinals or anything like that, mostly because most of the schools in our region cannot travel because of COVID.”
However, according to Ellington, despite the lack of national competitions, the Berry equestrian team is continuing their own practices, workouts and scrimmages throughout the semester.
“Most of the regions in the country are not competing,” Ellington said. “It was just kind of assumed that we would not have a regular season because there wasn’t anything to work towards, like a national competition. That left me with, ‘well what do I do now? What do I do to create some opportunities for my team to compete?’”
As a solution, the team will be competing in scrimmages throughout the semester with other schools who are able to abide by the same COVID-19 protocol that Berry’s athletic department follows.
“We had to find teams that are basically able to do testing 24 hours before the competition, just like we do,” Ellington said. “So any team that we scrimmage or that we compete against, they have to adhere to our standards, which is basically the testing and the obvious things like masking and social distancing.”
In order to schedule competitions for this upcoming semester, Ellington reached out to equestrian coaches she knows at other schools in the region and looked at Berry athletics’ approved conferences list.
“We’re going to do a lot of scrimmages with schools in our area, it does help that we are such a low contact sport,” junior Elliana Splichal said. “I’m just thankful we’re still able to do it and things haven’t changed necessarily that much.”
Berry athletic teams are required to take a COVID-19 tests weekly in order to monitor the health and safety of athletes and coaches. The equestrian team partakes in testing once a week on Wednesday nights, regularly sanitizes all shared equipment and requires all those at practice to wear masks and maintain a physical distance.
“Basically we have the best sport possible for this problem,” Ellington said. “We have a lot more confidence that there isn’t going to be a bunch of cases emerging because of practice because you’re not even close to each other, you’re on your own horse.”
Team workouts in Richards Gym have not yet resumed, however Ellington hopes to do so shortly. Because working out in a gym, even with a mask on, requires participants to be closer together than in the barn, she felt as though it would be safer to gradually progress to working out together.
“I wanted to see how everything went as far as COVID cases, so we haven’t quite started our team workouts, but I think I plan to start those next week,” Ellington said. “We are currently scheduled for two nights of the week, Wednesday and Thursday, I just wanted to see how everything was and make sure there wasn’t a massive blowout of cases first. I wanted to start out slow because our main goal is to be able to compete.”
According to Splichal, the team has not experienced too many difficulties in regards to team bonding despite the physical distancing.
“Because our team is so small, in some ways that’s really good because you can easily make a connection with someone, it’s sad because there are a lot of events we usually would do but we’re not able to, like a team bonfire,” Splichal said. “We’re still able to be a close-knit team. I think it just takes initiative, and a lot of the girls on the team are very invested in each other which is encouraging to see.”
The equestrian team has five contests scheduled at the moment and tentatively have a home meet scheduled for April 17, 2021.
“I’m hoping that either we find someone to come to us, so we’ll actually have a home meet, or we will do some kind of celebration that day in honor of our seniors,” Ellington said.
The equestrian team is also planning to host tryouts during the month of February for current students who want to join the team. Interested students are encouraged to email the head coach at firstname.lastname@example.org.