Student-run eventing team claims intercollegiate championship
Nearly five months had passed since Clemson’s dramatic, last-second victory over Alabama that claimed the school’s second National Championship in football. But that didn’t stop Clemson’s club eventing team — a group of four female students competing in the “triathlon” of equestrian — from subtly reminding their Crimson Tide counterparts of that fact at the Virginia Horse Trials last weekend.
“We were all wearing our Nike ‘Proven’ national championship t-shirts, and we made sure to walk past Alabama a lot,” laughed Sarah Pyne, a rising senior.
When it came time to assign stable locations for the second annual Intercollegiate Eventing Championship in Lexington, Va., who was set up on the same row as the team from Clemson?
You guessed it — Alabama.
“We had to do exactly what football did, and follow in their footsteps,” said Pyne, who has competed in eventing since she was in elementary school. “We came up short in 2016 after a really good first couple of days, but ended up losing the championship by 0.4 points.
“We knew we had a strong team coming back, and we said right away we were going to win it. We put a lot of effort into it, to prove ourselves.”
The proof came to fruition on May 28 when the ‘Tigers’ team defeated their next-closest competitor Kentucky by over five points to be crowned 2017 intercollegiate eventing champions. The team of Pyne, Samantha Hay, Samantha Messamer and Alex Peterson charged through the first two rounds of competition — dressage and show jumping — and built a substantial lead.
Dressage (pronounced druh-sahzh) requires each horse to respond to the rider’s requested movements in an enclosed ring, and scores are predicated on the horse’s grace and elegance. Show jumping is also set in a ring, and the horses are required to be more careful due to the presence of anywhere from 12 to 20 fences. Deductions are made for any fences knocked over.
The third phase, cross country, is comprised of a series of jumps over fences on a longer, open circuit, where scores are calculated based on time. Hay’s performance was 18 seconds under the targeted time, elevating her from second to first in the standings with one day to go.
After Saturday, Clemson’s lead was so large that it was mathematically impossible for the Tigers to be defeated, due to the fact that they were the only school whose four riders had completed each phase.
“Someone actually interviewed us Saturday night and told us we’d won, even though it wasn’t publicly announced until the next day,” said Hay, who also earned an animal & veterinary sciences degree in May. “The other schools had to finish competing at that point.”
Hay went on to earn the individual victory, and credited her performance to the longtime trust that had been cultivated with her horse, JoJo. She led a 1-2-4 finish in the individual scoring for the Tigers, with Pyne and Peterson putting forth great efforts as well.
“The horse I’m on right now, we’ve done really well,” Hay said. “That was my fastest cross country time. We’ve won five of our last seven shows.”
In 2014, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) created an intercollegiate program under its umbrella. Just three years later, Clemson’s club team — which consists of a total of 36 riders entirely responsible for self-funding the operation — won the program’s first national title.
More rewarding than any championship, however, is the fact the eventing team has brought together a group of Clemson students and forged relationships that, in many cases, will last a lifetime.
“Coming from Maine, where not that many people ride, it’s been really awesome,” said Pyne, an architecture major. “Most of the people in architecture tend to hide out in Lee Hall in the studio. Riding has ensured that I’m not stuck in Lee. I’ve made friends that have nothing to do with architecture that help me get my mind off of academics.
“I definitely think without an eventing team, it would have changed my college experience. It’s made my college experience that much stronger. I’ll stay in touch with these girls forever.”
And odds are they’ll forever reminisce about being linked together in history with Clemson’s championship football team in a memorable 2016-17 academic year.
Clemson Intercollegiate Eventing Team (CIET) officers
President: April Crawford
Vice President: Alex Peterson
Treasurer: Brooke Blankenship