While it is rare for any athlete from Yale to compete in her sport’s national championship, it is rarer still that she can do so by practicing only once a week for a sport that has neither varsity status nor adequate facilities on campus.
Liz Jordan ’06 will represent Yale at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Horse Show in Murfreesboro, Tenn. May 6-9. To reach the national equestrian competition, Jordan had to earn enough points in the regular season to qualify for Regionals, where she had to place in the top two to advance to Zones. At Zones on April 10 in Farmington, Penn., Jordan, who competes in the Open division, the most difficult of the five divisions, took first place both on the flat and over fences to advance to Nationals.
Jordan belongs to the Yale Equestrian Team, a club that competes in a region consisting of 11 schools in Connecticut and Long Island. Its members travel to a private barn in Bethany, Conn., about once a week where they practice under the tutelage of Margot Sanger-Katz ’02. Riders compete individually and as a team, and this year Yale qualified eight individuals for Regionals, but only Jordan advanced to Nationals.
“She’s so professional and so skilled, that even having very few practices, some bad luck and a lot of other things on her mind, she’s just unbeatable,” captain Philippa Pavia ’05 said.
In the Open division of collegiate equestrians, riders compete in both a flats and a jumps class. In the flats competition, judges instruct the rider to perform a number of tasks that primarily demonstrate horse control. In the jumps, riders must clear a series of three-foot high fences. In each class, competitors must ride a randomly selected horse.
“If you get a crappy one you’re out of luck,” Jordan said. “It’s a lot of luck of the draw. I think the best rider in our region didn’t qualify.”
Pavia said Jordan has also had her share of ups and downs, but that her skill has shone through, whether on a good or bad horse.
“Even when she has to ride horses who would be better off giving five-year-olds pony rides at the state fair or horses who are so crazy they need tranquilizers, [Jordan] seems to take it in stride,” Pavia said. “Where she really excels is in making even a ‘bad pick’ look easy. Her riding is exceptionally smooth and seemingly effortless, even when you know she must be working pretty hard.”
According to Pavia and Sanger-Katz, Jordan is a gifted and gentle rider who combines physical and mental toughness.
“Riding is a skill that requires a lot of physical maintenance,” Pavia said. “Since so many changes you make on a jump course have to be split-second decisions, you don’t have time to think, and muscle memory is really important.”
As evidence of Jordan’s mental strength, Sanger-Katz pointed to this month’s Zones where Jordan and three other riders were vying to go to Nationals.
The judges gave all four the same instructions, and Jordan, who was to go third, watched as the first two riders did the wrong sequence of jumps. Jordan, worried that she had misunderstood the instructions, nevertheless did the sequence she thought was right. The only one to perform the correct sequence in its entirety, Jordan easily won.
“She always keeps her head under pressure,” Sanger-Katz said. “She’s a good thinker in the saddle.”
Jordan hopes to use her experience and talent to perform well at the national show against the best riders in the country, most if not all of whom have better facilities and more practice time.
“I hope I win,” she said. “You get a free saddle.”