Time to put away the reins: Longtime Dartmouth equestrian coach retires

  • Dartmouth equestrian head coach Sally Batton holds Brady while equestrian team member Leah Johnson swings into the saddle. The team had two horses on the Dartmouth Green in Hanover, N.H., on May 23, 2019, so members could have their photograph taken. Batton is retiring from her position.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sally Batton, right, the Dartmouth equestrian head coach talks with former equestrian member Anna Knowles, of Seattle, on the Green in Hanover, N.H., on May 23, 2019. Knowles graduated in 2016 and was passing through Hanover heading to Maine when she saw Batton on the Green with a couple of the college's horses. Batton is retiring. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Retiring Dartmouth equestrian head coach Sally Batton poses for a photograph on the Dartmouth Green on May 23, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. Members of the equestrian team are Sue Mohieldin, on Brady, and Olivia Champ, on Bodie, both are seniors. Taking a photograph is teammate Nancy Curtis, right. Every year Batton brings a couple horses down to the Green so members of the equestrian can have their photos taken in front of the library. On the left is Evelynn Ellis an administrator at the college, she said she keeps an eye out for the day the horses come to the Green. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2019 9:33:27 PM

HANOVER — Sally Batton loved animals before she loved horses. Girls have a magical love for horses, she said. Her gift was an ability to share that passion with others.

Batton, who has served as the head coach of Dartmouth College’s equestrian team for the last 29 years, announced her retirement following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. She has spent 35 years coaching at the collegiate level, taking over the Big Green program then run by the Dartmouth Outing Club in 1990.

She guided the program during its transition to the Dartmouth athletics department in 2011 and helped put the Big Green on the national stage with a 2014 appearance at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Nationals. She will hang up her riding boots with five Ivy League championships, six Zone I Regional 2 titles and one IHSA Zone I title to her name.

In 2013, she received an IHSA Lifetime Achievement award for her work. She retired from Dartmouth as one of the longest tenured coaches in athletic department history.

“I, for sure, feel pride for all that I’ve been able to accomplish,” Batton said. “It’s really not just me; it’s been a team effort. Everyone has so much pride in this place, this facility, these horses, these students.

“I look back at it with pride and exhaustion. It was a lot of work for many years. But this has been a great place to be. I live here; my kids have grown up here. … I’m very grateful.”

But University of New Hampshire equestrian head coach Christina Heim said Batton’s legacy goes much deeper than just her accomplishments.

In Batton, Heim found a mentor, a teacher and a role model. She’s also seen someone become a important pillar in the sport, guiding with her voice and experience.

“Wherever Sally goes, in whatever forum she’s working, she is teaching and promoting horsemanship — high-quality, good horsemanship,” Heim said. “She leaves behind students who are wiser and more thoughtful for having that experience.”

Batton grew up in urban Canton, Ohio, the daughter of parents who didn’t share her love for animals. She would take injured birds home to care for them in the bathtub, she said, and talked her parents into getting the family a dog.

Later, in fifth grade, after getting her first experience with horseback riding at a summer camp, Batton begged to lease one of the camp’s horses. She was a freshman in high school.

“That was the start of it,” she said.

After high school, Batton enrolled at the College of Wooster (Ohio) thinking she would pursue a career as a veterinarian. A chemistry class convinced her otherwise, so she transferred to Lake Erie (Ohio) College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in equine studies in 1983. She then took a job at New Jersey’s Centenary College, coaching its equestrian team while serving on the faculty of its equine studies program. She worked there for six years.

Then, in 1990, Batton accepted the job at Dartmouth. It seemed like the logical next step, she said, and New England seemed like a much better fit.

“I think once I had children, that changed my focus where I wasn’t really thinking about moving on, that was a big part of it,” Batton said. “But also I feel like the lifestyle clicked right away. The idea of staying here this long, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I just love the Dartmouth students. That’s really what kept me here.”

For Heim, Batton was a resource and a mentor. The Dartmouth coach served on the IHSA board of directors from 1984-2017, first as a regional president, then chairman of numerous committees and then as national steward — or one of the sport’s top judges — from 2001-11.

“For us in the region, it really was like having a walking rulebook,” Heim said. “She had a lot of power in the (national) organization, she was very influential.”

Heim, now the regional president, was new to collegiate coaching when she took over the UNH program in 2005. Having someone in-state to go to for advice helped shape her career.

“Sally knows when to push a rider. She also knows when that rider just needs support,” Heim said. “I have to say Sally really emphasized the sportsmanship side of things. When the team won, great. But she was excited not in a gloating kind of way. … That’s something I’ve tried to instill in my riders.”

Suehayla Mohieldin, a Dartmouth senior and three-year rider under Batton, said the Dartmouth coach’s strength was in her ability to guide her riders with a mix of compassion and energy.

“I have to say Sally is one of the more incredible coaches I’ve ever trained with,” said Mohieldin, who served as the team manager this past season. “I learned a lot about leadership. … She was kind, encouraging, had a lot of different techniques of what you needed to work on. She was direct in her communication. Working with her from a leadership position has really been helpful.”

Mohieldin also said she’ll remember Batton as an advocate for riding with no stirrups, a philosophy that forces riders to use more body control — and less feet and legs — to connect with a horse.

“It makes you become more determined,” Mohieldin said. “We had different things every season, making this team more tenacious and precise.”

Batton said she plans on using her retirement to focus on her other professional pursuits. She founded the Athletic Equestrian League in 2010, seeing a need for more objectively way to judge competition and score riders, and continues to serve as its president. She also directs polocrosse and jumping clinics around the world, from Alaska to South Africa. Batton said she hopes Dartmouth’s next coach can build on the foundation she’s set and take the program to the next level.

But Mohieldin admitted it’ll be strange seeing anyone else hold the position.

“I think we’re losing a legend,” Mohieldin said. “She’s been quite instrumental in making this program what it is. … Losing a kind and passionate horsewoman is going to definitely be hard for the team. It’s something we’ve all been trying to come to terms with.

“It’s like the end of an era.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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