Three saddle seat riders from William Woods University traveled to South Africa earlier this semester to participate in the Saddle Seat Equitation Invitational between the United States, South Africa and Namibia.
The WWU students, Cydney Cutchall, Lauren McMichael, and Jessica Savinelli, were joined by 10 other riders to form Team USA.
“It was a trip of a lifetime,” said Savinelli.
Coached by Brent Jacobs and Chuck Herbert, and managed by Jane Jacobs, the 13 young women competed in both a Three-Gaited and Five-Gaited competition. WWU riders rode in the Five-Gaited competition.
Riders were chosen by invitation only and there were no tryouts for this competition. McMichael and Savinelli were members of the U.S. team that won the Saddle Seat World Cup last fall, so they had experience in international competition.
The team departed the United States from Atlanta Jan. 22 and, 17 hours later, arrived in Cape Town.
Sightseeing was first on the agenda. They took a cable car up Table Mountain, one of the most striking landmarks in the country. Table Mountain was given its name because of its appearance. The top looks flat, and when the fog rolls in, it looks as if a tablecloth is covering it.
Cutchall, McMichael, and Savinelli went for an adventurous lunch at Spier Estate. They experienced an African meal, which included being sung to, having their faces painted with tribal designs, and a buffet filled with authentic African foods like ostrich and springbok.
Team USA also held a barbeque, or a braai as it is called in South Africa, for the other teams. It was a bonding experience for team members and chance for everyone to get to know each other. They also held an “International Water Slide Competition” in their downtime.
In addition, Team USA visited Hermanus, a coastal town filled with shops and sandy beaches, right on the ocean. They ate at Bientang’s, but soon learned that part of the experience was to jump off the 15-foot rock that juts out over the ocean.
“I actually dove off the cliff at Hermanus!” said McMichael.
Friday was the first day of competition. It was run much like Equitation Finals in the U.S. or the World Cup competition. First, riders completed railwork, and then came back individually to perform the pattern. The only difference was the gait order for the Five-Gaited classes. In South Africa, it goes trot, canter, slow gait, and then rack.
The second day of competition was more challenging. One of the five-gaited patterns was tough, and the ending involved racking straight across the ring to the out-gate, without exiting through the out-gate. Riders were required to come down from the rack to a halt at the opening of the arena and then trot out. This challenge made tougher riders out of everyone, and all the performances went well.
Medals were presented in an unusual way. Gray ponies and a gray horse were led in, sporting blankets from which the medals hung. The Three-Gaited Awards were announced first. Namibia received bronze. Silver was presented to South Africa, which meant that USA had gotten the gold!
The Five-Gaited awards also announced that USA had won! South Africa and Namibia were second and third, respectively. Proudly, the USA team received their two gold medals.
“Bringing home the gold, jumping off the cliff, and making a whole bunch of new friends” were Savinelli’s favorite parts of the trip.
Team USA left South Africa the next morning, and both Savinelli and McMichael said that leaving South Africa was the hardest part of the trip. McMichael also said that she learned that “Sometimes a far-away place can feel just like home.”