Equestrian team begins season with second place finish


Photo courtesy of Dorja Kovacevic

The Allegheny Gators equestrian team poses with their medals during the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. The Gators finished second in their first horse show of the year between Oct. 2-3 at Seton Hill University.

The Allegheny College Equestrian Team placed second in their first horse show of the year between Oct. 2-3 at Seton Hill University. The two-day show was also the first for the team in over a year and a half due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The team was able to capture 21 points at the event, just seven points shy of the winner, Seton Hill University, who earned 28 points. Although their effort did not result in first place, the Allegheny riders and their head coach Halli Bidwell were proud of the way their team competed.

First-year rider Hazel Ammons, ’25, remarked on how quickly she was able to build relationships with her new teammates and how this could be a good sign for the future of the team.

“It’s a very good sign for our first show that we were able to do so well,” Ammons said. “But also, we are just proud of ourselves that we could get together with people we don’t know that well and pull that off our very first time.”

It’s a very good sign for our first show that we were able to do so well. But also we are just proud of ourselves that we could get together with people we don’t know well and pull that off our very first time.

— Hazel Ammons, Class of 2025

Bidwell was also excited to see her riders showing again, as she has not been able to do so since the fall of 2019.

“For them to come back and pull everything back together, and to get all the girls back out and showing was one of the exciting things,” Bidwell said.

The Allegheny Equestrian team are members of the Hunt Seat division within the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The IHSA has riders divided into classes based on their skill and experience. Based on their performance, each team can qualify for certain events within a show. During a show, there are nine events that take place, each with a corresponding class qualification.

The Allegheny team only has eight riders, and when matching up against schools with enough riders to complete all show events, they are put at an immediate disadvantage. President of the team Grace Hemmelgarn ’22, remarked on how impressive her team was in their first event barring their disadvantage.

“One rider at each level earns points for the team but we don’t have a full team,” Hemmelgarn said. “So we have empty spots where some teams are earning points while we are not.”

The IHSA is also unique in that riders at each event are given a random horse minutes before the competition begins. This is to make sure the competition is fair as riders have to quickly adjust their riding style to the horse they are riding that day.

To combat this quick adjustment on competition days, Coach Bidwell assigns a horse randomly to each rider before practice days.

Hemmelgarn noted some glaring differences between horses that make it challenging for riders.

“Every horse just feels different from one another, some of them are bouncier than others and that will affect your position and how you ride it,” Hemmelgarn said. “They all have different personalities, too.”

While the quick adjustment is a tall task for riders, the Allegheny team is excited to take on the challenge. The riders on the team prefer the IHSA format because of the way it promotes a fair playing field for all riders. The team also looks at the format as a good tool to develop strong riders.

“Horse Showing can be such a money driven sport in that the person that can afford the most expensive horse will most likely win,” Hemmelgarn said. “But with this college system, everyone is given a random horse and it’s no longer a variable so it makes great riders out of everyone on the team.”

In addition to practicing adjusting to new horses, each member of the team dedicates some of their practice time to individual things they feel need to improve, such as different riding techniques and overall strength. The team hopes this extra work will lead to more success to come as the season progresses.

“We are always working on getting stronger because that is a big factor when you ride,” Ammons said.

Looking forward, the team hopes to continue their momentum from their first show through the rest of their fall season. With four shows remaining, the riders are trying to improve as quickly as they can in order to try and secure a place at zone, regional or national championships.

The team wants to build relationships with one another, as they have plenty of new faces this year. The riders hope these strong relationships will create a culture of camaraderie on the team for years to come.

“I think this year we are developing a good community as a team and so I am really excited to spend time with my team,” Hemmelgarn said. “But I am also excited to support each other and see how the rest of my team improves throughout the season.”