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No Horsing Around: Dartmouth Rides Off to National Meet

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Hanover — When going away on a business trip, it’s a nice gesture to come back with a gift for those family members left behind.

It doesn’t have to be much, maybe a T-shirt from the destination or some such trinket. That said, the Dartmouth College equestrian team has a bigger present in mind.

For the first time in the program’s 30-year history, the Big Green is traveling to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national championship as a team. Dartmouth has sent individual riders before, but longtime coach Sally Batton’s crew won a slew of competitions this season — including its zone and regional championships as well as the Ivy League crown — to earn the right to travel as a group.

Well, almost. As with most road trips of a certain distance, Dartmouth won’t be taking its horses to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa., where the IHSA nationals begin on Thursday. The Big Green’s first assignment will be to get to know the horses provided for the competition rather than the 15 other teams they’ll be riding against.

“It’s easy to get thrown off by that,” freshman Walk-Trot-Canter rider Meg Rauner said on Friday afternoon during a team meet-and-greet event on the Dartmouth green. “We practice on different horses all the time — no one rides the same horse, even when we practice — so you sort of get used to riding different horses.

“A lot of people come in with experience from riding different horses. I think it’s more fun, actually. It challenges you in a different way. Every time you get on, you have to be really aware and really conscious of what you’re doing, and I love it.”

In more than a few ways, college equestrian shares little with the sport seen in the Olympics every four years.

For one, the sport Batton has overseen at Dartmouth for 24 years incorporates all levels of riders. Each show is set up that way, with competition in flats and fences in Novice, Intermediate and Open classes along with two other events — Walk-Trot and Walk-Trot-Canter — for relative newcomers.

Dartmouth competes in Hunter Seat Equitation, where how the rider looks on the horse is judged as much as the horse’s comportment itself. (The IHSA also sponsors a smaller Western riding competition, which will run concurrently in Harrisburg.) Points are awarded based on judged results; the team with the most points at the end of the show wins the title of national champion.

The Big Green won its first four shows and five of the seven staged in its zone last fall. The winning continued in March: Dartmouth took regions at home, won zones in early April at Mount Holyoke — beating the 22-time zone champion and three-time national champion hosts in the process for the first time — and claimed its first Ivy League title since 2010 at Cornell on April 19.

“We didn’t really have any sense of how we’d do (this year),” said freshman Meaghan Haugh, who will compete in Novice Fences and Novice Flats. “Older girls on the team were just astounded when we won the first show. Then we just kept winning every single one, basically.”

Beyond the uniqueness of never fully knowing the horse under you — imagine playing on a hockey team that has to wear the other team’s skates at road games — Batton enters each year not knowing the makeup of her team.

Because of the varying skill levels required, Batton doesn’t recruit. Instead, she holds open tryouts every fall — including for those returning from the previous season.

One of two truly co-ed sports programs at Dartmouth along with sailing, Batton’s roster this year consists of 18 women and two men. Of the latter, sophomore Justin Maffett — nationals-bound in Walk-Trot — “literally learned to ride a year ago,” Batton said.

“It’s kind of funny, because at a lot of our shows, it comes down to his class as the last class of the day,” senior co-captain Janna Wandzilak pointed out. “At the end of the season, even this past weekend at Ivies, it was up to his win to win for the whole team. … It’s just so exciting when he can pull through, someone who hasn’t been riding their whole lives but really is a natural rider and looks great on the horse.”

While Dartmouth’s team qualification came as a surprise to some riders, it didn’t come without Batton having a grand plan in mind.

Once in the providence of the Dean of the College and the Dartmouth Outing Club, equestrian moved over to the college’s athletic department three years ago. While always having varsity status, riders now engage in four days of physical training on campus per week in addition to four days of in-saddle work at the Dartmouth Riding Center at Morton Farm in Etna.

Batton is hoping for at least a top-10 finish for her squad in Harrisburg.

“(It’s been) a lot of sweat and hard work,” Batton said. “Three out of the six on the national team are new this year. We started out with some really good new talent, which added to our existing talent. …

“We took some extra trips this year; I was trying to kind of pressure them, to put them instead of in the little pond of our region, put them in a bigger pond. We went to Virginia in January for a competition, and at spring break — instead of sending everybody home — we went to Ocala, Fla., on a training trip. All these things together led us to where we are now.”

With nationals a day away, there’s only one other bit of business for the Big Green to complete before the show closes.

Just what size T-shirt does a horse wear anyway?

Horse Play: Skidmore and St. Lawrence shared last year’s national title, which was also held in Harrisburg; both are back to defend. Mount Holyoke, Centenary (N.J.) College, Delaware Valley College (Pa.), Goucher College (Md.), St. Andrews University (N.C.), Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design, the College of Charleston (S.C.), Clemson, the University of Findlay (Ohio), Miami (Ohio), Wisconsin, Purdue, Stanford and Oregon State round out the field. … Dartmouth last had an individual at nationals in 2011, when senior Sarah Spangenberg finished third both in Novice Flat and Novice Fences. … Haugh sported a walking cast on her left foot on Friday to protect an injury. It won’t keep her from riding, however: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s incredible that we made it this far. I’m not willing to give that up for a sprained foot. It’s a little bit painful when I ride, but I’d rather ride than not.” … The IHSA is made up of eight geographical zones and 37 regions, representing more than 400 schools and nearly 10,000 riders. … Next year’s IHSA nationals will be held at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass. Batton said Dartmouth would likely take all of its horses to the “Big E” should it qualify as a team in 2015.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.


Freshman Meaghan Haugh will compete in Novice Fences and Novice Flats and freshman teammate Meg Rauner will compete in Walk-Trot-Canter when the Dartmouth College equestrian team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Associatin national championship. The two riders' assignments were incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story.

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