Delaware State wins UEC cham­pi­onship tour­ney

Record Observer - - News -

DOVER, DE — If ever there was a Cin­derella team, this year’s Delaware State Univer­sity Equestrian Team is it. They were the bot­tom seeded team go­ing in to the United Equestrian Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment, first de­feat­ing the num­ber 1 seed to ad­vance to the fi­nals, then de­feat­ing the num­ber 2 seed to take the cham­pi­onship. Both show­downs may have earned the team a new name, “the car­diac Lady Hor­nets.”

The 2016-2017 school year has been noth­ing short of in­cred­i­ble for Delaware State Univer­sity Head Equestrian Coach Jen­nifer Ridgely, of Wy­oming, Del. (just across the Queen Anne’s County and Mary­land state line). Ridgely has been the head equestrian coach of the DSU Divi­sion 1 team for the past 10 years, me­thod­i­cally and pas­sion­ately build­ing it into a power to be reck­oned with. When she started, the team was com­prised of only five mem­bers. This year it had 26 team mem­bers, and next sea­son, after los­ing only three se­niors to grad­u­a­tion, and with 13 new re­cruits, the team will be the largest ever with more than 35.

In 2016, fol­low­ing a very good sea­son, and again in 2017, Ridgely was voted United Equestrian Con­fer­ence Coach of the Year by the other con­fer­ence coaches. She shared that honor this year with Coach Carol Gwen of South­ern Methodist Univer­sity. The other equestrian teams in the con­fer­ence are: Fresno State Univer­sity, New Mex­ico State Univer­sity, South Dakota State Univer­sity, and the Univer­sity of Ten­nesseeMartin.

DSU hosted this year’s con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship com­pe­ti­tion at the Delaware State Fair­grounds, in Har­ring­ton, March 24 and 25. The top four seeded teams in the con­fer­ence: 1. Fresno State, 2. South­ern Methodist, 3. U. of Ten­nessee, and 4. DSU com­peted.

Ridgely said, “First, this was a great honor for us the host the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships (the first time DSU has ever hosted the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship). We had to find a to­tal of 45 trained horses we could use for the com­pe­ti­tion.”

She added, “For us, the com­pe­ti­tion turned out to be a real nail­bit­ter!”

Col­le­giate equestrian com­pe­ti­tions in­clude both English and West­ern rid­ing events. There are only four to­tal classes, how­ever, West­ern Horse­man­ship and Rein­ing and English Equi­tation and Equi­tation over Fences. No one is per­mit­ted to ride their own horse. All rid­ers com­pete on horses they have never rid­den be­fore. Each school sends their best rider in each class against the best rider of the other school. Whomever wins that class, their school re­ceives one point; the los­ing rider’s team re­ceives no point.

DSU, be­ing the num­ber 4 seed in the con­fer­ence, was paired against num­ber 1 seed Fresno State in the first round. DSU beat Fresno State by one point in the first day’s com­pe­ti­tion. That did not hap­pen qui­etly, how­ever. A team is per­mit­ted to con­test a judge’s de­ci­sion, and Fresno did con­test the fi­nal de­ci­sion in the fi­nal ride. The same two rid­ers had to ride over again.

Fol­low­ing the sec­ond ride — same re­sult. DSU was de­clared the win­ner. Fresno State con­tested again, and fol­low­ing a an­other ride-off, DSU was again de­clared the win­ner and moved on to the sec­ond round to face SMU who had de­feated Ten­nessee.

Ridgely said, “The sec­ond day, at the end of the com­pe­ti­tion with SMU, both teams were tied with a score of 6-6. We had to do a ride­off to de­ter­mine the con­fer­ence cham­pion.”

Molly Gara, a fresh­man, got the call, de­feat­ing the rider from SMU, and thus DSU won their first-ever equestrian team con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship.

“That was amaz­ing for a fresh­man,” Ridgely said, “to be so com­posed and deal with all that pres­sure to win it for us!”

“We’re hav­ing con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship rings made for the team,” she added.

Fol­low­ing the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, grad­u­at­ing se­nior team cap­tain Abi Buck­wal­ter said, “We won it for Coach Ridgely and be­cause of her train­ing us to never give up. As the fourth seed, it wasn’t ex­pected for us to win, but the team made up its mind, ev­ery mem­ber of the team, that we were go­ing to give our all. I’m so proud to have been a mem­ber of the team here at DSU. I hope our ex­am­ple will serve as mo­ti­va­tion to those com­ing into the pro­gram that they can do it too!”

Buck­wal­ter grad­u­ated with a nurs­ing de­gree from DSU and is in­ter­view­ing im­me­di­ately for a job in West­min­ster, her home­town. She wants to spe­cial­ize in pe­di­atrics. She said, “I love work­ing with small chil­dren.”

Sopho­more DSU equestrian team mem­ber An­gelina Watts, of Stevensville, said, “We were in it to win it! That was our mind-set. We had noth­ing to lose be­ing the bot­tom seed in the tour­na­ment. After we won it all, we cel­e­brated in the mid­dle of the show ring and par­tied by pack­ing up all 45 horses we had to re­turn to their own­ers!”

DSU spon­sors 14 dif­fer­ent sports with schol­ar­ships, among them, tra­di­tional foot­ball, and bas­ket­ball teams. Fol­low­ing the DSU equestrian team win­ning the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and Ridgely be­ing named UEC 2017 Coach of the Year, Delaware State Univer­sity named her Coach of the Year for all sports at the school, Mon­day evening, April 24, at the school’s an­nual sports awards ban­quet. Ridgely said, “I’m on cloud nine right now!”

There are only 24 Divi­sion 1 equestrian pro­grams in the U.S. Divi­sion 1 is the high­est rank­ing of com­pe­ti­tion in col­le­giate sports. Equestrian team sports in Divi­sion 1 has only ex­isted for the past 13 years, mak­ing it a rel­a­tively new sport. Divi­sion 1 for equestrian sport was cre­ated for women only, fol­low­ing the guide­lines from Ti­tle IX, the fed­eral law man­dat­ing equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for women’s ath­letic schol­ar­ships in col­le­giate sports that men have al­ways had.

2016-2017 Delaware State Univer­sity Equestrian Team, Con­fer­ence Cham­pi­ons.

Delaware State Univer­sity Head Coach, Con­fer­ence and School Coach of the Year Jen­nifer Ridgely with her team cap­tain, grad­u­at­ing se­nior Abi Buck­wal­ter. Rid­g­ley called Buck­wal­ter “a su­per­star.”

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