This year marks the centennial of Goucher’s Equestrian program. A few weeks ago, the anniversary was celebrated with a dinner for alumni of the program, and friends of the stable. Now, the Equestrian team is celebrating in a different way: by bringing home a championship.
On Saturday, April 1, the Goucher Equestrian team competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) Zone IV Championships. Goucher hosted the meet, and the Gophers saw continued success, ultimately winning the competition and advancing on to the National Championships.
The day started early — members of the team arrived at the barns by 5 AM to get ready for the day ahead. The team is used to starting their work at dawn, but that Saturday brought another challenge: rain. As members arrived, there wasn’t much more than a slight drizzle, but that quickly turned into a heavy downpour that lasted several hours. Sloppy conditions can be dangerous for horses, but luckily the outdoor ring dried out relatively quickly, with the help of the high winds. Goucher was prepared for the weather, with a tent in front of the gate for spectators to stand under, and the show itself was held in the indoor arena. The rain cleared out around noon, clearing the rest of the day to be gorgeous weather, around 65 degrees and sunny.
The event officially kicked off at 9 AM, when Goucher student Sam Rehak sang the national anthem. Members of the Equestrian team described Rehak’s performance as “really outstanding,” a description that could easily be applied to the rest of the Goucher performances that day.
Ultimately, Goucher saw six individual Champion finishes, equivalent to first place. Cole Jackson ’23 earned Zone IV champion honors in team Open Flat and team Open Fences. Kellen Sullivan ’24 earned Zone Champion honors in Team Intermediate Flat. Jacob Connell ’24 was Team Limit Flat Champion, Kristen Wilhelm ’24 was the champion in Team Novice Flat, and Morgan Kingsbury ’24 was Zone champion in Team Intro Flat.
In addition to that, three riders earned four Reserve Champion honors, equivalent to second place finishes. Connell finished as Reserve Champion in Team Limit Fences. Makaylin Shoop ’23 was the Zone Reserve Champion in Team Intermediate Fences. In addition to his two Champion finishes, Jackson finished as the Zone Reserve Champion in Open Flat. Jackson also finished second in the Cacchione Cup Qualifier Class, meaning he will compete for the Cacchione Cup at nationals. The Cacchione Cup is awarded to the top open rider at nationals.
These high placements led to Goucher taking the ISHA Zone IV title, advancing the team on to the National Championships. The team bested Sweet Briar College, Hollins University and St. Andrew’s University, as well as defending national champion Emory & Henry, who finished as Reserve Champion to also earn a trip to nationals. This is the fourth Zone IV title in program history, following the ones earned in 2012, 2014 and 2015. This will be the Gopher’s eighth IHSA nationals appearance, and the first as a team since 2017.
“I feel so much pride for this group of riders,” Jennifer Smith, director of the Equestrian program said, “They worked tirelessly for this big win, and they did it with grace, and humility. We hosted the event, so the workload on them was intense for weeks leading up to it, and all day long people were coming up to me and just beaming.”
Smith added, “I was obviously thrilled with how they performed – under extreme pressure and in a sport where mental and emotional resiliency is just as critical as physical strength. Couldn’t be prouder to be a Gopher!”
The next stop for the team this year is Lexington, Kentucky, a place that is almost religious for people in the equine circle, joked one member of the team. The 2023 IHSA nationals will be held May 3-7, at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Feature image of Goucher Equestrian team courtesy of Goucher Athletics.