“To have our riders come all this way and leave as reserve national champions was incredibly gratifying,” said Stanford University hunter seat coach Vanessa Bartsch, referring her West Coast Cardinals soaring to the 2013 Collegiate Cup reserve national team title at the 40th Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championships, May 2-5, in Harrisburg, PA.
When Bartsch was signed by Stanford in 2006, she immediately coached SU to its first qualifying trip in a decade to the IHSA Nationals, coincidentally also in Harrisburg, resulting in its first Collegiate Cup reserve team title. That was followed by eight more consecutive trips by SU to the IHSA finals.
Her current champions, captained by Claire Margolis ('15), and including Erin Gray, Victoria Greenen, Holly Grench, Bailey Martinez, and seniors Eliza Richartz and Alison Smith, she calls a still-young team: “Mostly first-year and sophomore riders. Winning back-to-back Walk/Trot and Walk/Trot/Canter team classes spoke to our riders' work ethic and the quality of our coaching staff.”
But it only speaks to half the story. While defending 2012 national and reserve champions St. Lawrence University and Skidmore College battled to a 22-point tie for first-place in the IHSA Collegiate Cup, Stanford amassed 20 points – most on the final day of competition -- to clinch a reserve team championship they would not have to share with anyone.
Stanford Univ IHSA team captain Claire Margolis, training at the SU facility.
Photo by D. Marhefka
Margolis, Stanford's only rider to qualify for Nationals in five classes (Individual Open Flat and Fences, Team Open Flat and Fences, and USEF/Cacchione Cup), faced stiff odds: “I told Vanessa to relax, I had a 1 in 9,472 chance of drawing first in the order of go in all three of my jumping classes. So what do you know? I drew first three times in a row. Yes, I 'beat' the odds,” said the Mathematical and Computational Sciences major.
Numbers-wise, team points eluded Stanford on opening day.
“It was a tough show for us,” said Bartsch. “We had a young team, including four riders at their first Finals, and three in their first year on a team, so I tried to keep them focused on doing the best they could with each ride.
“That said, I could tell how frustrated the team was after the first day as we just couldn't catch a break. Claire drew first to go in every class she jumped in, our freshman Novice Rider drew the only horse who wasn't making it down the lines without adding in warm-up, and our Novice Flat rider drew the same short-strided horse. We were finishing just out of the points. Our bad luck carried over to our second day when Claire drew first again, Ali had a horse that spooked, resulting in a re-ride, and we had a tack issue.”
By Eliza Richartz's Walk-Trot class, Bartsch was trying hard to stay upbeat: “She had been on our team less than a year, had only finished third out of five riders at Zones, and had only shown nine times in her life. I was just hoping she'd ribbon.”
Maybe Richartz didn't have a lot of riding hours but the Stanford senior was among the top sailers in the country and had won international regattas from South Africa to Italy to the West Indies.
No competitive athlete likes losing. Richartz spent the final weeks before Nationals back at Stanford riding twice or more a day, seven days a week and often without stirrups, with any teammate or coach who would teach her.
“Right before the class,” her coach said, “as Eliza was studying ring placement and showmanship, something she, like many new riders, struggled with all year. I started to explain how it was like sailing: the judges are the wind, the other riders are boats.
(l-r) Standford University IHSA riders Eliza Richartz (Walk-Trot), coach Vanessa Bartsch, Victoria Greenen (Walk-Trot-Canter) at the 2013 IHSA Nationals in Harrisburg PA. Photo courtesy Vanessa Bartsch/SU IHSA team
“That metaphor seemed to click. We had never seen her ride as beautifully or as focused as she did that day. I think her teammates were even more excited than she was because all of them had taught her.”
Richartz won the IHSA Walk-Trot Hunter Seat Equitation Championship and delivered the team's first seven points in Cup standings.
“I was a recruited athlete from the varsity sailing team,” she said. “Two weeks into my junior spring I opted to try for the equestrian team. I had returned from a quarter abroad in Chile where I took lessons and loved the sport.
“I don't know enough to know when a horse is 'good' or not but I think I drew the best horse at Nationals. His name was Noah and was a liver chestnut (my favorite color) from Skidmore. He was responsive to every aid I gave him.”
With seven points on the board, the team felt its spirits lift. “We had some traction,” Bartsch said. “Heading in with Tori (Victoria Greenen) I was hopeful. She wasn't an experienced hunt seat rider and was tired coming off the IDA Finals, but her dressage background makes horses go well for her. One assistant coach, watching the webcast from home, said she could spot Tori even on a small monitor because 'she was the only rider with a horse in a frame.”
For Greenen, a rising junior majoring in Energy Resources Engineering, it was her first year competing Walk-Trot-Canter on her IHSA team post-season.
“The traveling had been tough. I had been competing at Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts) for IDA Dressage Nationals the week before, making Harrisburg my third cross-country flight in less than a week.
“I rode in one of the last team rounds and hadn't been keeping track of points. I began to realize that we were doing pretty well when Eliza won the round before me and could feel the team's excitement as I walked in the ring. The little mare I drew (Centenary College's Legacy) was the best I had drawn all year and was an important component to being able to ride the best that I could. It paid off with a win.”
Greenen's Walk/Trot/Canter Hunter Seat Equitation Championship added seven more points to SU's total. “Our standing,” she noted, “changed so quickly in just a few rides.”
Coach Bartsch saw it too. “When we won back-to-back classes, we were thrilled. Those victories went to two of our hardest working riders trained by coaches at Stanford. Sometimes in the upper levels we polish riders or teach the art of catch riding, but with walk/trot and walk/trot/canter riders, how they ride and just about everything they know is a product of their coach and their hard work. It's rewarding when they do well.”
2013 Stanford Univ IHSA Reserve Collegiate Cup National Champions, Harrisburg, PA.
Left to right:
Claire Margolis, Holly Grench, Eliza Richartz, Tori Greenen, Alison Smith, Bailey Martinez, Erin Gray, coach Vanessa Bartsch
Photo: Al Cook Photography
Team captain Margolis said, “It was surreal hearing Stanford's name called as Reserve Champion. My freshman year we didn't come close to second-place and I assumed East Coast teams had an edge on us. Winning on 'foreign soil' was all the more rewarding. I am proud of every member of the team and coach Vanessa.”
For Bartsch, the feeling is mutual: “Despite her luck of the draw, Claire took third in Team Open Fences, fourth in Open Flat (Individual) and fifth in Open Flat (Team), contributing six points toward our team score and leading the way with her upbeat and positive attitude.
“I learned years ago not to keep track of points or put too much stake in standings. There are too many variables: which horse you draw, your order of go, the judges that day. As we went into the last class, I had no idea how we were doing except that we had enough points to not be at zero.
“Every year it seems team awards go late and we end up running to make our plane. This year we were able to stay and collect our award and cheer the teams, and tried to quietly leave to catch our flight as they finished pictures. The other teams and coaches--starting with Mount Holyoke and Centenary--started clapping as we exited. I have so much respect for how they run their programs and instill sportsmanship, to be recognized by them meant the world.“
The SU team, which is entirely self-funded and self-supported and welcomes partnerships with its equestrian community, has earned eight consecutive team Regional Championships, Zone Championships, and Top Ten IHSA National Championship finishes.
“Vanessa is the best coach I have ever had,” says Richartz. “Equestrian is a club sport so she has to shamelessly ask for sponsorship, good deals on hotels and flights, host fundraisers and take care of us all at the same time. It is impossible to know how much she has done for us but I don't think I can ever repay her for all the lessons, driving, early morning shows, free gear, advice, help with horses and most importantly, conversations about school, goals and future plans. She gives everyone a fair shot.”
IHSA is based on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in shows regardless of financial status or riding level. Learn more about IHSA teams and scholarship opportunities for riders at www.IHSAinc.com.