The St. Lawrence Riding team is the best team you have never heard of. They have earned a spot at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Championships six years in a row and were back-to-back champions in 2012-13. They placed in the top-ten in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and head to Lexington, KY this year with big expectations to preform at the high standard they have established for themselves.
One of the primary reasons the team is so unknown on campus is because the sport is so foreign to most of us. Lauren Nolan ’17 was happy to provide some much needed background. At the collegiate level, riding separates into two divisions (Flat and Over Fences) and five levels (Open, Intermediate, Novice, Walk/Trot/Canter and Walk/Canter). To qualify for the IHSA National Championship the St. Lawrence team had to advance their regional tournament and advance through the ‘zone’ tournament, which is the equivalent of state tournaments.
In other sports equipment can make the difference between two closely matched teams. Horses that are exposed to more expensive training and instruction can mask the skill of the rider. Casey Jones ’17 explains how riding accounts for this disparity, “One of the most interesting things about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (college riding), is that at we don’t know which horse we will be riding and at the championship level we find out in a live draw just minutes before we get on and go into the show ring. This is to make it more fair and exemplify the skill of the rider rather than the skill of the horse.”
This year eight riders are competing in the national tournament; Lauren Nolan ‘17, Casey Jones ’17, Lily Barnard ’19, Caitlin Doocy ’19, Sidney Black ’19, Maeve Cruikshank ’20, Merle Beach ’20, Bella DiNicola ’19. Although only eight riders are competing from the team, the entire 21-person team is traveling down to Kentucky to support their teammates. Maggie Whitney ’18 said, “Prepping for nationals is my favorite time of year, because it brings the team closer together. We’re all working hard to bring back a win, but we’re also doing a sport we love.”
The team practices at least two hours a day, six days a week. Cleo Meuller ’19 explained, “The level of commitment that it takes to be a good rider is insane. How much you have to love horses to devote this much time to them is insane. It’s a natural consequence, then, to have an insane amount of love for your teammates.” And the commitment to the team is year round. Celia Diller ’19 said, “What many people don’t know about the team is that we don’t have an off season. It takes a ridiculous amount of dedication and love for this sport to compete throughout the entire school year. Sometimes it’s really hard to keep going but even when I feel like I’m failing, the team has always pulled me back up.”
Bolstering the strong network the riders create for each other are Head Coach Mary Drueding and Assistant Coach Cate Wagner ‘01. Both coaches bring a wealth of background and expertise into the barn everyday. Drueding is the first coach in the history of the IHSA to lead two collegiate programs to national championships and has been the St. Lawrence head coach for 21 years. Annie Wilson ’20 described it succinctly, ““If Mary Drueding said it, it must be true.”
Best of luck to the team as they compete at nationals from May 4th to May 7th.