No more horsing around for the Yale equestrian team — it’s on to bigger things.

On Sunday the Bulldogs took their first-ever regional championship. Despite a poor start at this final show of the regular season, held at the Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville, N.Y., the Elis hung on to the 15-point lead they took into the contest with a strong finish.

“This was the first time the team has won the region in history, which is amazing,” Becca Krauss ’05 said. “Combined with the fact that this is my last year, and I’ve put so much time into practicing and building a team that’s strong enough to do this is amazing. It’s a great way for me to end the four years.”

The Elis’ region includes 12 schools from Long Island and Connecticut.

Coming up big for the Elis was freshman Donnell Gavin, who won the advanced walk-trot-canter division, one of two-event victories the Bulldogs would notch on the day. It was the third consecutive show that Gavin won her division.

“Donnell Gavin has been a superstar all year long,” Jen Cummins ’05 said.

Gavin’s win ensured Yale at least a share of division-champion honors. Fairfield University could have earned co-champion status if both of its remaining riders had finished first and Yale’s Melissa Gonzalez ’08 finished last in her division, the walk-trot.

But Fairfield’s Maura Rafuse was unable to take the top spot in the beginner walk-trot, closing the door on the Stags’ title hopes and allowing the Elis to claim sole regional title honors.

A set of unfortunate circumstances threatened to bury the Bulldogs at the very outset of Sunday’s competition. In the third event of the day, captain Liz Jordan ’06 was assigned a horse that kept bucking whenever the announcer spoke over the PA system. After waiting several minutes to see if the horse would calm down, the judges refused to allow Jordan to use a different horse.

Jordan — Yale’s strongest rider and a national competitor as an individual one year ago — did not fare well with the horse and was not awarded a re-ride. The incident sparked controversy later in the competition when a Sacred Heart rider was allowed a new horse for a similar problem.

“The rule is generally where if the judge can’t judge your riding, you need another horse,” Cummins said. “[The horse was] brought to the attention of the judges; the judges deliberated and decided not to allow a new horse. The horse spooked at the TA system and kept bucking — it took [Jordan] straight out of placing.”

Despite the early setbacks, the Eli riders were able to step up as the competition progressed. Jordan earned Yale’s first points with a fifth-place finish in the open fences category. Elizabeth Gerber ’06 placed fourth in the intermediate flat category, and Gypsy Moore ’07 took sixth in the novice flat category.

Those events put Yale up nine points on its closest competitors before Gavin was able to close the door.

Team members said Sunday’s competition was one of its weakest of the season, and referenced the show that it hosted Feb. 27 as its strongest performance of the season. Shows have 49 points available, with scores in the low 30s usually enough for a team to win the day. Riding on their home grounds, the Bulldogs took an impressive 41 of 49 points.

“Throughout the season, we consistently did very well, but we were not always in first,” Krauss said. “Then three weeks ago, we hosted our own show. We were extraordinarily successful there and got a lead that could sustain us through a decidedly more mediocre show Sunday.”

Krauss added that Sunday’s show was tough on all teams participating due to the unprofessional nature in which the event was run.

“It’s tough to finish the season with a disappointing showing, but we did well at our show because it was professional; the horses were good,” Krauss said. “Things were hard Sunday because the horses were not good, and the judge was questionably qualified. Not just our team didn’t do well — there was bad organization, weird judging and bad horses.”

Team members attributed the team’s tremendous improvement this year to the fact that this was the first year that the Elis were able to put strong riders in every category.

“We’re strong in every single division,” Cummins said. “We need people who are beginners just as much as advanced riders. This is the first year we were able to fill every category.”

The Bulldogs’ regional championship is also impressive given their non-varsity status. The Yale equestrian team is a club team with an annual budget of only $600. While other teams that do have varsity status can practice and take riding lessons several times a week, the Elis only have one opportunity to ride each week. Additionally, the Yale Polo and Equestrian Center is dilapidated to the extent that team members must travel 30 minutes off campus to practice.

Some team members will compete next at the regional championship April 3, an individual event. The weekend after, the Bulldogs compete at Zones, which they qualified for by winning their region.

Because Zones is composed of the various regional champions, the Elis will be facing teams with more funding and more practice opportunities. But the Bulldogs are excited for their opportunity and are looking forward to the challenge.

“In our region we know the other teams so well,” Philippa Pavia ’05 said. “It’s very difficult now to know what we’re going into, because we’ve never seen these teams ride before. Basically, we’re going in blind — which is scary, but also exciting.”

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