As a high school sophomore, I shook off thoughts of college, preferring to think of it as in the far and distant future. Why? Because I feared leaving behind what I have and having to look forward toward a place that represents the great unknown.
But on Jan. 18-20 in Wellington, Fla., the College Preparatory Invitational allowed me to see that I don’t have to leave my horses or riding in the past. I can continue to ride and compete at a high level in college.
The CPI is an opportunity for high school riders from across the country to meet college coaches and for the coaches to see riders compete. CPI also gives us as riders answers to our questions about our futures and how riding can be involved in them. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a part of this experience and to look at college for the first time through a new perspective.
I was introduced to tons of schools that have riding programs and facilities beyond my craziest dreams. Colleges like Sweet Briar (Va.) made me giggly with excitement as I imagined myself galloping carelessly through the acres of wide grassy land covered with autumn leaves. The University of Findlay’s (Ohio) program was explained to me in such great detail that I felt sure I would be going to a well organized group of coaches and riders.
I came to realize that there are possibilities that I’d never dreamt about and opportunities for me to grow as a rider and horsewoman in college. Through CPI I am secretly more assured that I will be able to do what I love in college with more ways than one to approach what I want to do with my future.
The CPI began on Saturday, and I arrived all pumped-up and excited. Well-dressed I was, with my boots shining, shirt sort-of tucked-in, and jacket appropriately unwrinkled. Waiting to draw my horse, I chatted amiably with some girls from the University of Miami riding team about their coach, Karen Flynn Ferrara, who just so happens to be my present trainer.
After being called over to draw my horses for my classes, I examined the candy that concealed the names of our mounts as we chose. Sadly, my favorite candy, Krackle, had been taken by another rider, so I reluctantly picked up a Hershey bar with the name Captain America underneath. I didn’t know whether to be comforted, wary, or happy about the name. He was a pony, and that was enough for me to smile about.
Later, as I traveled the aisles of college booths with some friends, we were fortunate enough to speak with the man who started the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Assocation, Bob Cacchione. Bob is an inspiration to meet. He knows the horse world and its people personally and has stories to prove it. He began the program as a college student after his parents said they couldn’t afford both college and horses. He began by training five other riders from his college; soon he had more than 40 students.
His school asked if he would form a team and at the age of 18, Bob became the youngest faculty member at his school. With other colleges wanting to form teams he got each one to host a show with his method of drawing random horses to ride. He wanted everyone—no matter their wealth or level—to be able to ride. Meeting Bob Cacchione was one of the highlights of my day due to his success and independent determination to build up a world from an idea all his own.
After much exploring and hanging with friends it was time for me to hop aboard and ride. Little Captain America was a pony jumper with springs to match. During my two schooling jumps the pony’s handlers told me not to yank on his mouth since he’d had a bad experience earlier. I understood their worry, but as I jumped our 2’6” warm-up fences, I came to a realization that I very much hated having to use my hands to ride at all. My hunter rides rarely needed much hand to guide them.
As I walked into my intermediate class, my trainer, Karen Flynn, gave me a couple of tips and then I was off, holding back this speedy pony to the first fence. Over the first jump nicely and on to the inside line I went. Around the corner I half-halted, and he slowed down considerably as I jumped into the first of the line and held for the out.
We were a little deep to the last jump of the line, but it was forgotten as I handled the long ride to the outside oxer. Half-halting repeatedly, I found a nice distance to the oxer and continued on to the bending line. The line was off a strange turn that caused some people to cut in or stay out too long. I half-halted hard around the corner and over the fence I asked him to land right. I held him for the out of the bending line and carefully sat deep to keep him from charging forward. Luckily, he was landing all his leads so no lead change worries.
We cleared another single oxer easily, and I held for a tight jump near the rail. With that last jump I was done with a fair round and a couple of deep distances. I got fourth in the class, and I was quite pleased with my performance and my cute little pony too.
Showing The Way
Sunday was the scholarship awards ceremony for CPI and many speakers came in to talk about colleges and their approaches on how to start searching for the right ones. From riding in college as a specialized equine student to riding less frequently, they showed the audience options for how to stay involved in the horse world.
The speakers also emphasized that getting experience in classes like business, management, or sales can help in dealing with the money-making aspect of the horse world.
Finally, the awards and scholarships were announced for High Point Rider in Hunt Seat and Dressage, Champion of Service, Journalistic Photography, Horsemanship Test, and Essay. Thankfully, I won the Essay scholarship and received $1,500 dollars in scholarship money. I was thrilled and startled since I didn’t believe I could win it two years in a row. I was able to speak with a reporter about my story and take many pictures.
For the essay, they asked us to write of a place where we’d want to live; I wrote about a dream of the great west with open land and mountains, a small cabin on a hill, and a quiet oak tree. I’ve never experienced that as a Miami girl so it seems like a fantasy in my mind.
CPI is an opportunity to see what is out there for horse lovers, like me, after high school. It shows students a path to follow what they love in horses and how they can use that passion in the next step, college. CPI has given me a chance to go farther in riding than ever before. From the beginning to the end, CPI has given me experiences and made me aware of how to balance riding and my future together. Thank you CPI!
The College Preparatory Invitational hosted its third year of competition at The Stadium at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Fla. More than 150 riders from across the country participated in four levels of hunt seat competition, along with two levels of dressage. The CPI offers riders grades 8-12 exposure to collegiate-level equestrian competition as well as the opportunity to be recruited by the nation’s top colleges and universities offering equestrian programs. Additionally, CPI awarded five scholarships totaling $8,000 thanks to the support of sponsors Alfred University, Centenary College, Charles Owen, CWD, Dietrich Insurance, Dover Saddlery, Dyer Equestrian, EQUUS Foundation, FootingFirst, LLC, Mississippi College, Practical Horseman Magazine, Purina, Randolph College, The Clothes Horse, The University of Findlay, and the USHJA Foundation.
CPI winners included:
High Point Hunt Seat Rider—Brianne Link of East Islip, N.Y., class of 2016