Equestrian team heads to Nationals

Junior Chase Boggio wins a first-place ribbon in Open fences. Boggio rode in two team and two individual classes, earning a first and third place for the team and a second and fourth place individually. Courtesy Grace Hayes-Larson

The Tufts equestrian team has been quietly excelling its past few semesters, and has had an eventful, if not historic, season this year. The team’s incredibly successful stretch has led to a number of important wins, including a qualification for Nationals this year.

The team’s bid for nationals is exciting, but not unexpected. Equestrian is a club sport that has consistently competed at a high level this decade, winning Regional Championships in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and also the 2015 Winter Tournament of Champions (TOC). Still, this season exceeded many of the team members’ expectations.

“Our biggest goal was to build on our successes from last year while continuing to improve and become stronger individual riders and a stronger cohesive team,” senior tri-captain Michelle Zackin told the Daily in an email.

Zackin noted that the team had won High Point team honors in their region in 2013 and 2014 but did not place high enough at the Zone competition, a national qualifier, to move on to nationals. She said the team’s overall goal was to win their region and to be one of the two best teams at Zones so that it could qualify for nationals.

“[This was a] far-off goal, and we knew it would take hard work from every single team member if we were to get there,” Zackin said.

Junior Tri-captain Julia Rowe agreed that the team had ambitious goals, but noted that they missed nationals by “only a few points” last year and, this year, were “very driven to make [the qualification] happen.”

This year’s success stemmed from building upon last year’s team dynamic, with a few key changes.

“[The team] has always been tight-knit, but this year’s team has stuck together through a lot of change,” Rowe said. “We would not be going to nationals if it weren’t for this great attitude and environment.”

This change includes the resignation of longtime coach Katie Schaaf, who led the team throughout the previous 10 years. The equestrians adjusted to both a new coach and a new barn mid-season, which had the potential to cause a lot of turmoil in the transition for both the coach and the players. These changes turned out to be very good for the team, however, as new coach Shane Powell and assistant coach Elissa Bentley were able to help the team improve considerably.

“We were lucky in that we ended up in a better situation than anyone could have imagined — the new barn was wonderful, and our new coach and assistant coach helped take us to a whole new level,” Zackin said. “Despite the difficulties of the move, the whole change ended up being a major blessing in disguise for the whole team.”

The tight-knit atmosphere and resilience of the Tufts equestrian team is due to a number of factors. The team draws riders from all class years and skill levels, but since the competitions, known as horse shows, are separated by skill level, lifelong riders and beginners are of equal importance to the team’s success. Rowe and Zackin both noted that the atmosphere at competitions is exceedingly positive, and that morale has improved this year.

“At our competitions, it tends to be a very supportive environment,” Rowe said. “We have a mixture of seasoned competitors to first-time competitors at each show.  Everyone is providing advice and knowledge to help each other out. We also get to know the girls from the other schools, so while we are competing and [it] can be stressful, it’s also a fun atmosphere.”

The fun atmosphere has contributed to the team’s success.

“When our riders are relaxed going into the ring, they always ride better than when they are stiff and nervous,” Zackin said.

In the future, the team hopes to win a ribbon at nationals and continue to build on its previous victories. Zackin hopes that the team can continue to ribbon each year and that it will be a consistent competitor at the national level. Rowe agrees, saying that the team is looking forward to getting to know its new coaches as well.

The spring season has had many highlights. In particular, the elite Tournament of Champions, which only involves the top teams from each zone, was a memorable moment for the team. In a sense, Tufts equestrian came into the tournament an underdog, competing against varsity-level teams with full funding from their respective athletic departments. Tufts emerged victorious, though, beating out the other teams by a dominant 11-point margin.

“Winning TOC put our team on the map,” Zackin said.

A second highlight was Zone finals, where the top two schools in the competition advance to nationals. Although Tufts started out strong, other teams closed the gap later in the competition. Tufts was initially tied with Sacred Heart for second place before emerging victorious in a second tiebreaker, securing a spot at nationals.

“We were pretty sure we won the tiebreaker, but [we] didn’t want to get our hopes up too soon,” recalls Rowe. “When they finally made the announcement, it was the most exciting moment of my Tufts career. I can’t describe that feeling and how proud I am of each and every member of this team.”