California Riding Magazine • April, 2013

California Riding's
Collegiate Corner
Stanford Equestrian Team
is a national jewel.

by Kim F. Miller

Overview: The scope and success of the Stanford equestrian program make it a true jewel in the national collegiate equestrian scene.

Hunt seat riders compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Assn. league and represent Stanford's largest and most established squad. This year, 80 freshman tried out for 12 spots on the team of 29 that won its eighth straight regional title in mid-February and heads to the Zone 8 Regionals April 7-8 in Colorado. Hopes are high for an eighth consecutive appearance at Nationals, held May 2-6 in Harrisburg, PA.

The western and dressage teams are newer and smaller, but growing in size and success. The western squad also competes in IHSA competition, which is sparse in Northern California compared to that in hunt seat. Nine riders comprise the western team, which scored its fifth regional championship this season and sent two riders to the IHSA western semi-finals in Kentucky in late March.


Freshman Carson Kautz, open reining, on Stanford's Master Catalyst.
Photo by Damian Marhefka

The dressage team has seven student athletes, only four of whom ride at each show per the Intercollegiate Dressage Assn. format in which it competes. Now in its second full year, this team earned its second regional championship and is bound for the IDA Nationals late this month at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

Riders from all teams have ample opportunities to work together during weekly team meetings and while helping stage the many competitive and/or fun events at the Red Barn.

Unique Attributes: A full-time, paid head coach in Vanessa Bartsch and a deep roster of 15 part-time coaches are among Stanford's unique attributes. Top hunter/jumper trainer Jim Hagman is one of several regular clinician/coaches for the hunt seat team, and international show jumping champs Meredith and Markus Beerbaum presented a team clinic earlier this year. The university's high academic standards, successful and well-run team and its beautiful Red Barn stabling and training facilities attract top talent.

Admissions Standards for "the sunny, palm tree-laced,
Spanish-inspired Ivy of the West."
Accepted 7% of 32,022 applicants
SAT Ranges: Critical Reading 670-760; Math: 690-790
ACT Ranges: 31-34
**per the Fiske Guide to College 2013

Stand Outs: Hunt seat team captain Claire Margolis won the Regional High Point Rider, Cacchione Cup honors last year as a freshman and then went on to the National Finals where she finished third against the IHSA's top 37 riders nationally. She was the 2012 Cacchione Cup's top finishing freshman and laid down the highest over fences score of the event. Claire just won her second straight Regional Cacchione Cup honor, was regional champion in Open Fences and Open Flat, and was invited to compete in the 2013 Pin Oak Collegiate Invitational, the only IHSA rider to be included.


2012-13 Team. Photo by Damian Marhefka

Claire was also one of four Stanford riders to finish in the 2013 USHJA Zone 8/Region 1 High Point Rider Top Ten Year-End standings. Claire was first, followed by freshman Bailey Martinez in fifth, freshman Holly Grench in sixth and sophomore Erin Gray in eighth. Vanessa notes it's all the more impressive because most of them didn't ride in every show, they just rocked it when they did. Neither Bailey nor Holly finished lower than second competing in the Intermediate and Novice divisions, respectively.

Meanwhile, senior Alison Smith continued her winning ways as this year's regional champion in Intermediate Fences. She's looking at a third trip to the Nationals this year, as both a team and individual contender.

Qualities Sought: "Teachability is the biggest aspect for us," Vanessa says. Athleticism, versatility, work ethic and ability to get along well with peers are other important characteristics. Catch riding skills are huge. Vanessa is super supportive of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association high school league that's growing rapidly out West. She likes the Interscholastic Equestrian League, too, but notes that the IEA is formatted like IHSA competition in that riders draw an unfamiliar horse and enter the ring with no warm-up on that mount. IOther team members warm the horse up.) "Kids who have catch ridden and understand that the collegiate riding format has its own form of gamesmanship do very well. Those who are stuck in their ways and used to riding just their own horse can be challenging."


Well-known hunter/jumper rider, Nicoletta Heidegger, is a star team member who doubles as Stanford's mascot, "the Tree." She's pictured here with Head Coach Vanessa Bartsch.

As in any sport, the team needs to fill specific spots each year, so openings for Walk/Trot, Intermediate or Open riders vary by season.
Although Stanford attracts many big names from the A circuit, stellar show resumes are not a prerequisite. "Someone who grew up riding a lot but hasn't shown can be just as valuable as getting an open western rider," Vanessa notes. "As an IHSA team, we look to build our strength at every level from Walt/Trot (or Jog) to Open."

Catching The Coach's Eye: Do your homework! Asking questions that are answered nicely on Stanford's website is a "real turn-off." That's almost as bad as having parents contact her instead of the student. "Yes, I know kids are busy, but they're going to be even busier in college so they need to deal with it." Vanessa welcomes "intelligent and specific" questions about the team. "So, tell me about your team" isn't one of them.

Attending a show to observe how different teams function and perform is a great idea, Vanessa advises, but typically her plate's too full to speak with a prospective student. "Following up with an e-mail noting that you attended our show, spoke with some students, and hope to schedule a visit is a better tactic." This season, Stanford has fielded nearly 200 tour requests.


Team with the Beerbaums.

Although many prospective students beeline for the head coach, it's often the team captains and riders who can share the most useful information about the team experience. Consult Stanford's academic and the team's competition calendar before attempting to schedule a visit because high school breaks don't always align with collegiate calendars.

Horses: The Stanford team currently has 32 horses. The high caliber of its program has made it relatively easy to attract donated horses from the A circuit hunter/jumper community. The sound, trustworthy, middle-aged horses suitable for lower level competition have been a little harder to find.

Thanks to Stanford's Horse Care Fund, the team's horses receive exemplary care, including expensive joint care and other treatments when needed. The waiting list of alumni ready to provide the team's equine retirees an equally good life throughout their golden years is a big draw for many donors.


Christy Amwake on Stanford's Auzzie.

(Alumni are a many splendored resource, the coach notes. "I recently had a student who wanted a consulting internship and I had three alumni I could call to help her out.")

Cost: The team is student run and funded, with rider fees at $250 per quarter and horse use fees at $500 per semester. Fees are waived and/or reduced for students whose families qualify for various financial aid packages and many riders work off a substantial amount of their fees by doing barn tasks.

Costs are defrayed by fundraising and generous sponsorships from Ariat, GPA, Heritage Gloves, EquiFit and others. All riders have access to the team's clothing library, where friends and alumni regularly donate gently used show wear.

Star Studded Student Body: This year, four equestrians on or
affiliated with the Stanford team dominated the West Coast
World Cup Jumping league. Team member Nayel Nassar
(representing his native Egypt) won the league, Lucy Davis
and Saer Coulter finished the league in fifth and sixth and
Alec Lawler finished 20th in overall standings.

Even though these World Cup Finals candidates' show
schedules prevent them from being a regular part of the
team, they "are wildly supportive" and find ways to contribute.
"We are a much bigger entity than the 42 kids officially on
the team," says Vanessa. "We are lucky to have an amazing
group of student athletes and we've been able to adopt
them into the program."

Although the university does not directly provide funds to the equestrian teams, the administration is very supportive. Access to the athletic department's weight equipment and trainers, Pilates program and other supplemental activities is included in the team fees.

Facility: The on-campus Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center is home to the team. Built on the site of university founder Leland Stanford's original Stock Farm, the original hub, the Red Barn, its adjacent buildings and its riding arenas were completely refurbished in 2005. (The facility also accepts boarded horses.) The Red Barn has 67 stalls, the Paddock Barn has another 32, and horses enjoy daily turn-out in 14 large paddocks. Riding spaces include the 120' by 260' show ring, a covered, lighted indoor ring, a 115' by 200' outdoor and a regulation size dressage court with mirrors.

Future Vision: "We want to uphold our proven track record of success in the show ring," Vanessa says. It's equally important to cultivate a lifelong passion for horsemanship. "Our staff has not done its job if our graduates don't come back later and talk about how much they still love horses. We like to take a somewhat intellectual approach in emphasizing that learning about the horse is part of the sport."

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