Alfred State students are riding high in the saddle after advancing to the national finals of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association in Lexington, KY. Among the equestrians’ many accomplishments, Travis Harvey (Alfred Almond) completed the season as the high point western rider of Zone 2, Region 1 and placed in the top 25 among all riders in the national finals. Previously this year, equestrian club members also brought pride to Alfred State when the polo team won 10 out of 12 contests, including two victories over Harvard.
With the continued success of equestrian sports, the college will add western riding to the Athletic Department’s varsity sports starting in the 2017-18 school year. The move further solidifies Alfred State’s support of equestrian competition and creates more chances for students to compete at the highest level in horseback riding.
“By adding western riding as the 19th official varsity sport for the Pioneers, we are recognizing the success of our student athletes and their mentor, Professor Victoria Bolton, who advanced the program to this stage where they are now able to leap to a whole new level,” stated Athletic Director Dr. Kelly Higgins. “Support runs deep for equestrian sports on campus with the strong backing of President Sullivan, the entire administration, and following an extensive review and approval by the Intercollegiate Athletic Board. The transition begins now and I’m anxious to take the reins of this new varsity sport in 2017.”
“It is a great day to be a Pioneer,” exclaimed Alfred State President Dr. Skip Sullivan. "Alfred State is proud to be adding another official intercollegiate athletic program. Our equestrian team has been highly successful in recent years, and we are pleased to provide more great opportunities for our students."
Western riding is the first sport added by Alfred State since baseball returned to campus in 1995. Currently the equestrian program, including western riding, hunt seat, and polo, is a club team. The hunt seat and polo programs will remain club sports.
The western team, which currently consists of 17 members, competes in eight intercollegiate horse shows throughout the year where the riders earn points based on their placings at all of the shows. During the 2015-16 school year, the team was the reserve champion for Zone 2 Region 1. Six members of the team qualified for the regional show and three advanced to the semi-finals held in Murfreesboro, TN where Harvey then advanced to the national finals.
Vicki Bolton, who has guided the equestrian program during the club period is excited about the move. "The team is very enthusiastic about becoming a varsity sport, which will allow more students interested in horses and horseback riding an opportunity to compete."
The bond between a horse and rider is usually nurtured and developed over time. But in western equestrian shows, riders are paired with horses in a random drawing and the rider has only a few minutes to connect and build a partnership. The horses vary greatly in experience and it is the rider’s job to bring out the best performance after mounting the 1,200-pound animal for the first time. Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) riders are judged by their control of the horse, the rider’s body positioning, and their ability to make the ride appear effortless.