The Savannah College of Art and Design might have been considered a shoo-in to pick up their fourth consecutive, and seventh total, Affiliated National Riding Commission National Champion-ship. They were fielding a team of experienced horses and riders, and they had the home court advantage for the championships, held April 14-17 at SCAD in Hardeeville, S.C.
But SCAD coach Andrea Wells explained that it didn’t quite work like that.
“We weren’t actually riding as much as we should have [since we were hosting],” she said. “Mostly we spent a lot of time moving jumps, painting and decorating. We were a little ill-prepared, riding-wise.”
But you wouldn’t have known it from the riders’ performances. Despite all the time spent on the ground instead of in the saddle, the SCAD teammates pulled together for a win over Centenary College (N.J.) and Virginia Intermont College. SCAD competitor Kels Bonham also earned her third individual title (85.18 points) over teammate Henrietta Armstrong (84.07) and Centenary College’s Katie Haley (83.93).
Bonham, 20, on Cover Charge, Paul Frederick, 21, on Kino B and Caroline Ingalls, 20, on Lazio, rode on the team, while Lydia Todd, 18, on Sculpture and Armstrong, 22, on Monarch filled out the individual spots.
“I think we have some really talented riders who are consistent and are able to handle the pressure of the competition and stay consistent through all the phases,” said Wells.
Several SCAD competitors are veterans of previous teams, including Bonham, Armstrong, Frederick and the horse Sculpture, who was retired after completing his ninth championship this year. That experience helped the team cope with the unique challenges of the ANRC Championship, where riders complete a written test, dressage sportif (a dressage test that integrates jumps), hunter trials (a hunter trip over an outdoor course with natural obstacles) and a medal round.
The dressage sportif counts for 40 percent of the overall score, the hunter trials 30 percent and the medal round 30 percent. If riders don’t score at least 70 on the written phase, points are deducted from them in the riding phases.
This was Frederick’s fourth year riding on the SCAD team. The senior from Hopewell, Va., was thrilled about finishing his college career with another title.
“Being a part of ANRC team is always a great feeling,” he said.
“It’s great to help carry on the tradition.”
Winning the competition requires not only well-rounded riders but also versatile horses, according to Wells.
“It takes a special horse,” she said. “It takes a horse with quality, a show horse, one that wants to bedazzle people. To do the lengthenings and to get the high scores in dressage, it has to be well broke on the flat and has to have a soft enough mouth to do dressage in a plain snaffle. It takes a horse that likes to be in the field and is brave and will jump natural obstacles. Finally, it takes a horse that’s educated enough to do a regular Maclay-type round in the area. It’s not for every horse, definitely.”
Bonham Bounces Back Bonham’s weekend didn’t start perfectly—she was eighth after the written test and knew she’d have to catch up during the dressage sportif, the phase she was most worried about.
“I was a little nervous about the dressage, but it went very well. I was very lucky to get to ride [Cover Charge]. He was really pleasant and tries so hard,” said the junior from Eolia, Mo.
Cover Charge, a 17-year-old Hano-verian (Contender—Sabrina) owned by Don Stewart, is currently leased out
to Emma Wilson, a client of Wells’. The Wilson family loaned him to Bonham for ANRC.
Bonham said he was foot-perfect in all three phases, though he did pull one rail in the medal section, knocking him out of the top 10 for that particular phase. Their third place in the dressage sportif and first in the hunter trials carried them through to win in the national division.
“I love the format,” Bonham said. “I think it’s great even though sometimes it’s a hassle to get the time in to study for the written test. But I think it’s impor-tant people know common horse things.
“The dressage sportif is really effective, and it gives everyone a fair shot to be seen,” she continued. “I think the hunter trials is fun and brings it back to what hunt seat equitation is all about, riding at a forward pace over natural fences. Then the medal brings it all together. I think it kind of encompasses everything in a nice way.”
Bonham is no stranger to big competitions—she won the 2008 USEF Medal Final—and even though she was defending her title, she wasn’t feeling the pressure before the ANRC Championships.
“I’m lucky because I have a very extended show résumé,” she said.
“I go into it a little less nervous and intimi-dated because I’ve done quite a bit. Sometimes I get a little nervous because I’m on a team and want to do well for them. SCAD overall really strives to be excellent in everything they do. We make sure we get our horses as good as possible and make sure everyone is matched with the best possible horse. We always try to prepare correctly every day. I feel like we do everything we can to go in there ready to try to win.
“It’s a little unexpected to win again!” Bonham added. “Every year I go in and say, ‘I don’t know if I can do it again.’ This year it was close. There were a lot of good people. My rail in the last round didn’t give me much breathing room, but I just managed to eke it out. I’m relieved about that.”
Midway Makes A Long Trip Worth It
For the first time in the ANRC Cham-pionship’s eight-year history, a novice division was held alongside the national section. While the novice riders also completed a written test, dressage sportif, hunter trials and medal phase, the fences were all set at 2'6" instead of 3'0".