Delaware State wins UEC championship tourney
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.”