March 30, 2014—What you are most passionate about in second grade tends to stay with you throughout your adult life, yet many of us stop pursuing our equestrian passion when we reach high school because we’re told it’s not a valid career option. In reality, there are hundreds of ways to combine work and horses.
That was the message Dr. Karin Bump, an equine studies professor at Cazenovia University, relayed to the more than 100 high-school students and their parents about a study she’d read recently. The group was gathered on a warm, windy Florida day in a covered riding arena surrounded by palm plants, the setting of the fourth annual College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show.
The goal of the show, held March 28–30 at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in West Palm Beach, was to introduce the high-school students to the world of competitive collegiate riding and help them navigate their own path to a fulfilling equestrian career.
Designed as a three-day event (no, not that kind), the CPI consists of
• a college-format hunt-seat riding competition where rider’s mounts are chosen in a random drawing and students are able to showcase their abilities in front of college equestrian team recruiters.
• a college fair where students can talk to equestrian team and program representatives and get their personal questions answered
• educational seminars from top professional riders and equine education experts to give students the tools they need to start preparing now for their college experience.
“Your catch ride this weekend may not be [top hunter] Jersey Boy, but these horses can give you the ride of your life,” said Jane DaCosta of Brooklyn, New York, who worked as a CPI Hunt Seat Coach at this year’s show. She spoke with students before the competition to encourage them to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them over the weekend.
This year’s CPI offered hunt-seat equitation and over-fences classes to more than 130participants who came from as far away as Hawaii.
On their first day, young riders had the chance to watch the horses they would later compete on as they were being schooled. Most of the horses were on loan from local college riding teams and their quirks were well known—one needed spurs, another a light hand. For some students, this would be their first catch-riding experience, while others compete regularly on Interscholastic Equestrian Association high-school teams. As the horses were put through their paces, students took mental notes of the horses they hoped to ride.
Following a written horsemanship test in the afternoon, riders and parents gathered in the section of the covered arena dubbed The Charles Owen Learning Lounge to hear educational presentations from IEA, American National Riding Commission, and Intercollegiate Horse Show Association representatives on the different competitive riding opportunities in high school and college. Randi Heathman, a career counselor who specializes in equestrian career options, and Dr. Bump both spoke to students about college and career planning. Dr. Bump explained that passion is what drives learning and that by tailoring topics like math and business to horses, young riders will be more engaged and could, conceivably, do better. “More than 197 colleges in the United States offer some kind of equestrian academic program and there are over 450 ways to incorporate equestrian interests into your college education,” she said. That can be overwhelming and mind-boggling to young students. Dr. Bump reminded them that, “You don’t have to shut one door to work on another, but the onus is on you as a student to make your career your passion.”
Saturday’s schedule started with a 7:20 a.m. horse draw. The skies were cloudy and the young riders were unusually quiet during the draw, but energy picked up as the competition for Advanced, Open and Limit riders began soon after. Peter Cashman, CPI show manager and head coach for the United States Military Academy at West Point, kept things moving seamlessly throughout the day. Later in the afternoon, Dr. Weston Davis spoke on preparing for a career in equine veterinary medicine, including undergraduate preparation and coursework considerations. Natalie Z. Burton, interim head coach of Southern Methodist University, spoke on NCEA (formerly NCAA) regulations and what high-school students aspiring to compete at the NCEA level need to be doing now. For example, as early as ninth grade, students should be tracking their competition results and money earned. By 10th grade they need to start emailing colleges, and by 11th grade they need to be making unofficial (at their own expense) college visits. Randi Heathman finished the day by talking about how to simplify the process of signing up for the NCEA, including whether to take the ACT or SAT and how many times. Her talk finished shortly before the start of a torrential downpour that was so severe it delayed the Adequan Grand Prix in nearby Wellington for a day.
On Sunday, the sun was back out as the competition concluded with the Intermediate and Novice divisions. Following the last class, students attended an inspirational presentation by Olympic show-jumping team gold medalist Peter Wylde. He explained that his success was actually the result of many years of hard work—starting when he was about 7 years old. “As a young kid,” he said, “I used to braid my own pony, load it on the truck and trailer and then go to the house and wake my parents and say, ‘Would you please take me to the horse show?’” Peter has recently moved back to the United States after living in Europe, and he is actively engaged in helping young riders pursue professional careers with the U.S. Hunter Jumper Emerging Athletes Program (https://www.ushja.org/programs/eap/eap_intro.aspx).
Student awards were presented following Peter’s talk. First- and second-place finishers in each class received a ribbon and Dover Saddlery gift certificates for $50 and $25. The following awards also were given:
Each of the following student riders received a $500 scholarship award from Karen Leeming, Partner of FootingFirst, LLC:
• CPI Advanced Equitation Division High Point Rider: Elizabeth Ekberg (High-School Graduation Year: 2017), Washington, D.C.
• CPI Open Equitation Division High Point Rider: Caroline Kornegay (Graduation Year: 2016), Raleigh, NC
• CPI Intermediate Equitation Division High Point Rider: Olivia Moriarty (Graduation Year: 2017), Long Beach, NY
• CPI Limit Equitation Division High Point Rider: Nathalie Fargo (Graduation Year: 2015), Whitestone, NY
• CPI Novice Equitation Division High Point Rider: Kirsten Konopnicki (Graduation Year: 2015), Arlington, VA
Additionally, several special scholarships and awards partially subsidized through fundraising by the CPI Junior Ambassadors were presented by Roy Burek, President of Charles Owen & Co.:
• CPI Written Horsemanship Test Award ($500 scholarship/$500 Der Dau boot gift certificate): Haleigh Townsend (Graduation Year: 2015), Chandler, AZ
• CPI Champion of Service Award ($1,000 scholarship): Cassie Crotty (Graduation Year: 2015), Coral Gables, FL
• CPI Service Award Runner-Up ($300 scholarship) Caitlyn Scagliarini (Graduation Year 2015), Milford, CT
• CPI Essay Contest Award ($1,000 scholarship): Isabel Pickett (Graduation Year: 2015), Hoover, AL
• CPI Essay Contest Runner-up Award ($300): Cassie Crotty (Graduation Year: 2015), Holly Springs, NC
To conclude the ceremony Kirsten Konopnicki, of Arlington, Virginia, earned the Highest Point Hunt Seat Equitation Division Award, sponsored by FootingFirst, LLC for accumulating the highest score of the five divisions. She received an additional $500 scholarship.
CPI organizers have tentatively set January 9–11, 2015 as the date for the next show. They hope to grow the program each year so interested students have a strong network of professional contacts to help them combine their career goals and their equestrian passion. As more students carve out their own successful equestrian careers, it paves the way for more to follow their lead, and the equestrian community will be all the better for it.