Although some of the strongest riders on the Yale equestrian team graduated last spring, the Bulldogs showed this year that they are still strong.

“We’ve filled the holes nicely,” head coach Phoebe Heffron ’04 said.

In the 2004-05 school year, the Yale equestrian team won its region for the first time in its history. This victory was momentous for the Elis, who have been struggling to survive since the team’s inception in the 1980’s. Even though those seniors have left, promising new freshmen have joined as replacements. While the team did not place first in this year’s region, four Bulldogs are headed to a separate regional show meant for individual competition. Liz Jordan ’06, Elizabeth Gerber ’06, captain Aelwen Wetherby ’06 and Donnell Gavin ’08 will compete in that event at Good Shepherd Farms in Yaphank, N.Y. on April 2.

“The regionals signify this season’s success,” president and former captain Jordan said. “All four of our competitors are great.”

There was a reorganization of the region this year. During the 2005-06 season, 10 other schools competed against Yale in Region 4 of Zone 2 of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Associaton (IHSA).

“This year there are more teams, and they are more competitive,” Wetherby said. “But we have still been placing really well.”

At each show, there are several levels of competition, ranging from beginner walk-trot to open jumping. About a dozen Bulldogs travel to each show. This year, there were a total of eight competitions, one of which Yale hosted on February 26 at Westbrook Hunt Club.

“Our show is always a highlight of our season,” Wetherby said. “We always get compliments on how our show runs.”

The last regional team competition took place on Sunday in New Canaan, Conn., where the Bulldogs placed third. In addition to the individual regionals next week, there will be an All-Ivy show on April 23.

At regionals, Jordan will compete in open flats, Gerber in intermediate flats, and Wetherby in novice flats, while Gavin will compete in advanced walk-trot-canter.

While these Bulldogs are talented, that is not the only reason why this year’s team has been so successful. The Elis range from beginners to riders who have been around horses since childhood. But all of the Bulldogs have worked hard to improve in their respective divisions this year.

This year, two freshmen in particular have greatly contributed to the improvement of the team. Blair Epstein ’09 and Elisabeth Leake ’09 have brought both experience and a sense of camaraderie.

This past weekend, Leake won both her classes. Though she lost her ride-off exhibition, she was named the reserve high point rider of the competition.

Leake is a Production & Design Staffer for the News.

“[Blair and Elisabeth] know so much about horses,” Heffron said. “When you tell them to do things, you know they will do them right.”

Heffron said the rookies served important roles, both boosting the morale of nervous teammates and filling in when she herself is unable to coach.