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Stanford vs. Berkeley. The mere mention of this phrase brings to mind intercollegiate rivalry, competition, and confrontation.
However, these were the exact opposite sentiments displayed by members of the Stanford University and UC Berkeley equestrian teams this weekend as they competed in their first ever head to head scrimmage. Dubbed "The Big Ride", the friendly scrimmage was held on Sunday, October 21st at Stanford’s historic Red Barn in Palo Alto, CA.
Unlike regular season IHSA shows, this competition was informal and was used to introduce the horses (many of which have had the whole summer off) and new riders to the intercollegiate equestrian show format. Points were loosely kept track of and no definite victor was ever announced. The show was organized in such a way that the victories most celebrated were the generous donations received. Both Stanford and Berkeley’s equestrian teams are entirely student funded and receive no aid from the schools’ athletic departments, making every donation vital to the success of the team.
From the moment the Berkeley girls stepped onto Stanford turf, a feeling of camaraderie permeated the crisp October air. There was an immediate bond amongst teams as old friends who used to be barn mates ran across team lines to greet one another with warm hugs, and team coaches Vanessa Bartsch and Diane Yeager chatted excitingly, catching up on the latest equestrian news.
Stanford freshman Bella Peyser explained that Berkeley’s presence is more of a support system than a rivalry. Bella grew up riding with UC Berkeley freshman Devon Manze at a show barn in Los Angeles. When asked how the outcome of this scrimmage would affect their friendship, Bella laughed and said, “not even a longstanding rivalry between Cal and Stanford could affect us. Even though we are supposed to be competitors, I want her to succeed.”
Bella was not the only person with divergent ties to both Stanford and Berkeley. Perhaps the individual with the most conflicting loyalties was Jim Hagman, founder of the nationally renowned riding academy Elvenstar. Jim has an extraordinarily close relationship with both teams, as he is one of the head clinicians at the Stanford barn, but also trains some of the Berkeley girls when they are not showing in the collegiate equestrian world.
However, Jim’s cheerful demeanor and genuine care for all his riders allowed him to handle the day’s potentially awkward situation with ease. Throughout the competition, Jim could be found posted at the rail giving riders words of encouragement as they entered the ring and praise upon exiting.
Stanford Team Captain Claire Margolis with Ronnie
The scrimmage was based on the premise of catch riding, where each rider randomly drew the name of the horse that was to be the mount for their round. A unique characteristic of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association shows is that riders are not permitted to warm up their own horse. They mount up at the in-gate and proceed straight into the ring with only one warm up fence to familiarize themselves with their horse. In the morning before the competition, members of both teams were able to watch non-competing warm up riders briefly hack the horses and jump a few fences in order to observe any quirks the horses might have.
After the mounts were drawn, each horse completed the course twice, once with a Stanford rider on its back and once with a Berkeley rider. In a randomly selected order, four Open riders (the highest level rider recognized by the IHSA) from Stanford and four Open riders from Berkeley navigated the 3’3" course to the best of their abilities. Since Stanford was hosting the show, it was responsible for supplying the horses, meaning that the Stanford girls had a slight advantage over Cal, as some of the girls had ridden their mount before in lessons.
Each round was scored on a scale from 1-100, as is customary in the hunter world. However, actual team points were not given by a summation of all the team members’ scores in each round; a single point was awarded to a team based on which rider (Stanford or Berkeley) received a higher score on the same horse.
Berkeley’s Taylor Harris (left) and Stanford’s Rachel Kolb (right), who was voted MVP of the Big Ride, taking celebratory jumps over the adjacent Cal and Stanford fences.
After the jumping competition came to an end, there was a beautiful performance by members of both schools’ dressage teams as well as various raffles.
Overall, the first Big Ride was a great success. Although no winner was officially announced, both teams’ coaches agree that the girls did an excellent job and that this event was just a glimpse into the upcoming IHSA show season, with regular competitions beginning in November. Graduate student and Stanford team member Rachel Kolb has even higher expectations for the perpetuation of this event in years to come, saying, “Hopefully we will be able to make this a yearly tradition. I think the Stanford and Cal teams have really enjoyed the opportunity to get together with the whole community to have a fun day of horses and friendly competition.”
Stanford's team horse Luke finishing the last jump of the course with a Stanford rider Alison Smith.
Stanford’s Julia Ishiyama kicking off the Big Ride. All photos ©Bailey Martinez