The second time was the charm for the Tuscaloosa Equestrian team as the high school and middle school programs celebrated championships at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Region 10 finals this past Sunday.
The teams were formed last year, drawing riders from schools around West Alabama. That first year produced an individual national champion in Northridge High School’s Abbey Whitmer, who won the 2017 Leading Hunt Seat Rider.
“What they have accomplished is really special,” said Reid Rickett, Tuscaloosa’s IEA teams’ coach. “Especially for this being only the second year of having a team — it’s a big feat. Our region has had its regional for the past six years, and this is the first year that the same team hasn’t won it. A team from Tennessee has won it for the past five years. We are the ones to break that winning streak.”
Rickett said he believes the second time around made the difference. Last year was the first time Tuscaloosa formed the team and joined the association.
“We had a lot of the same girls this year, but the difference was we were able to have a rider in each class. Last year we created the team, but I also didn’t really know how it worked. It was kind of our learning year. Once I realized that it was the most beneficial to have a person in every category, that that was how we could get points in every category, that made a difference,” Rickett said. “We did just about as well in all of our competitions last year as we did this year. But we were missing people in a couple of different divisions, so we were missing points. So that was the difference, finding those girls that could fit in those categories and try to be competitive in them as well.”
The high school team placed first among six teams that qualified for the Region 10 Finals. That team included Whitmer, who placed first in Varsity Open Equitation on the Flat and first in Varsity Open Equitation over Fences in the team competition. In individual competition at the show, Whitmer placed first in Varsity Open Equitation on the Flat and 1st in Varsity Open Equitation over Fences.
Brenna Ledbetter placed fifth in Varsity Intermediate Equitation on the Flat and fourth in Varsity Intermediate Equitation over fences. In individual competition, Ledbetter placed first in Varsity Intermediate Equitation on the Flat and fourth in Varsity Intermediate Equitation over Fences.
Landrey Smith placed fifth in JV Novice Equitation on the Flat and first in JV Novice Equitation over Fences. In individual competition, Smith placed third in JV Novice Equitation on the Flat and third in JV Novice Equitation over Fences.
Kiyanna Anguiano placed first in JV Beginner on the Flat in team competition, and, as an individual, she placed third in JV Beginner Equitation on the Flat.
Other high school riders competing as individuals included Natalie Sanders who placed fourth in Varsity Open Equitation on the Flat and seventh in Varsity Open Equitation over Fences, Lindsay Stephenson who finished third in Varsity Open Equitation over Fences, and Sunni Otts who placed fifth in JV Novice Equitation over Fences.
Tuscaloosa’s Middle School team was the champion among the five teams that qualified for the Region 10 Finals.
Representing the Middle School team for the team portion of the competition were Anne Douglas Hamiter (third in Future Intermediate Equitation on the Flat), Mary Mac Collins (fourth in Future Intermediate Equitation over Fences), Cate Ramey (first in Future Novice Equitation on the Flat and third in Future Novice Equitation over Fences), and Mary Collier Pope (first in Future Beginner Equitation on the Flat).
Hamiter competed as an individual as well and placed first in Future Intermediate Equitation on the Flat. Anna Marie DiPiazza finished eighth in Future Intermediate Equitation on the Flat. Mary Collier Pope placed first in Future Beginner Equitation on the Flat, and Adelyn Rogers finished fifth in Future Beginner Equitation on the Flat.
With their championships, the teams advance to the IEA Zone 4 Finals which will be held in Tyron, North Carolina, March 17-18. Whitmer, Ledbetter, Hamiter and Pope each qualified for those zone finals as individuals as well. The top teams and individuals in each class will move on to compete in the IEA National Finals April 20-22 in Syracuse, New York.
“In the zone finals, the team will compete with those same team riders and also the girls who qualified individually,” Rickett said. “To qualify individually, you had to be first or second in your individual class at regionals. I think we have a pretty good chance as long as all of our riders ride to the best of their ability. Our goal this year was just to have a team qualify for regionals, so now we’ve surpassed that, so there’s no pressure. I guess we’ll fly in as the underdog and see what happens. I’m really confident in our girls. They work really hard on our team horses and on their own horses. So we’ll just see what we shall see.”