What’s it Like to Win a National Equine Championship?

Posted Nov 09, 2022

In Spring 2022, Otterbein University’s dressage and hunt seat equine teams recently wrapped up strong finishes to their first competition seasons in three years. The dressage team won the Intercollegiate Dressage Association’s (IDA) national championship on April 24 — the team’s second consecutive title. On the individual level, two of the dressage team’s four riders took first place in their respective levels. Valerie Golden ’23 won the F2 level. 

We asked her what it’s like to win a national equine championship. 

Name: Valerie Golden 

Majors: Equine Business, Business Administration and Management

Minor: Accounting

Class year: 2023

Hometown: Bellville, Ohio

Tell us about the championship.

The Otterbein dressage team completed the regular season ranked second, which qualified us for nationals. As an individual rider I was ranked first in our region and earned a spot to compete as an individual. We took four riders for the team event, so I was able to compete on team day and on individual day at nationals. This was a big year since the year before was COVID and the show was canceled. The team consisted of Jenna McPeek, Lily Syah, Isabelle Coburn, and me — two seniors and two juniors. We knew we had the ability, we had a really strong team, but we had an inconsistent season, so we were incredibly nervous.  

At the Intercollegiate Dressage Nationals, the best schools bring their best horses. The horses then get divided up into specific levels that fit their ability. The riders and teams get to randomly draw a horse. This year there were plastic eggs with the horse’s name inside. It was fun to draw a random egg! The rider gets 10 minutes to sit on, warm up and get to know the randomly drawn horse, then must go show it in the ring in front of judges. We got to take six of our Otterbein horses to Nationals so we were excited to have the potential to draw them, but fun fact, we did not! 

How did it feel to compete? 

On the day of the team event, I was so nervous! We felt that we drew quality horses, but we were not sure how they would perform. I was the very first rider in the ring for the entire day — 8 a.m. start time. I had to fight my nerves; when competing, I usually just take alone time and listen to music and not even think about the competition, just focus on the horse. Being the first ride of the day and the first ride on our team, which sets the tone and rankings for the rest of the day, and to ride a horse that I did not know and that had not been shown all weekend.  

I ended up winning my class, but the other three riders on the team still had to do well for the team to win. Jenna McPeek placed third in her class and Lily Syah won her class. We were all on the edge of our seats, nervous, pacing, and anxious for the final rider on the team. The show office did not want to post or announce the last riders scores until the awards ceremony. We knew that after the first three riders we would hopefully place in the top three. We all had our fingers crossed! They announced the Reserve Champion, and it was not us. So, at this moment, we knew we had to have won. It was so thrilling to walk up and receive the Championship trophy, ribbons, saddles, prizes, and the banner. We were honored to represent Otterbein. We were thrilled and very thankful for all our ribbons, prizes, and banners.  

Now we have our sights set on 2023 Nationals! 

Why did you choose to ride for Otterbein?  

I chose Otterbein University for many reasons; the main reason was due to the reputable IDA team and amazing coaches we have in the equine program. I wanted a school with both outstanding dressage and eventing programs; Otterbein has that along with an outstanding hunt-seat program. I was familiar with Coach Roth and really wanted to train under her guidance.  

Otterbein has an incredible facility and horses and I have fallen in love with the Equine Department. I tried out for the IDA team freshman year and I ended up winning a home show, then COVID hit. So, it was a disappointing season, but I wanted to come back even stronger. I was so excited to get back to IDA after a year and a half off and was determined to get the team to nationals. I love this sport; it really tests your ability to ride and wrangle new horses quickly. It allows riders to show their best abilities on a new horse. The team selection for nationals is about consistency throughout the year. I worked hard to ride my best to be able to make our nationals team. I was lucky enough to do so in 2022 and hope to ride even better this year to get to the 2023 nationals.  

What was your favorite thing about it?  

My favorite part about nationals was the team being so supportive and together. We not only had the 4 team members there, but grooms, individual qualifiers, friends, and family. Every single person was supportive, encouraging, and there for us. It is incredible to see so much support and love in one place. There is an endless amount of teamwork behind the scenes of every show, but this one especially. We all really bonded that week and became closer friends and even closer teammates. As every team member was showing we all sat at the edge of the arena whispering words of wisdom to them and sending positive vibes only. It was just a week of unconditional support and team spirit for everybody. 

What did you learn from participating?  

This competition really tested our teamwork and encouraging abilities on that championship day. I really learned the importance of lifting others and working as a team, even though everyone rode individually. As each rider’s score was posted we knew we were in the running to place where it does not matter how good one person did, it matters how the team did. It mattered how supportive we were to each other. We had to work together to support and encourage one another. 

I learned not to get nervous, mistakes happen, and to always encourage and lift others. You cannot be in control of every circumstance, but you can control emotions. There is an enormous amount of pressure when you are getting on a horse you do not know and nothing else matters in time except the connection between you and that horse. I am so grateful for this opportunity through Otterbein. I could not be prouder than representing Otterbein! Go Cards! 

Why should others consider doing it, as well?  

Anyone with or without a lot of experience can join the Equine Team here at Otterbein. We do lessons for beginners through advanced riders. We offer three different riding and showing teams and lessons five days a week. Otterbein can provide horses and coaching that an individual may not be able to acquire or pay for themselves. Taking advantage of learning from many different school horses only makes you a better rider. It is a wonderful way to see what the University offers — and you can visit the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Equine Science! The IDA team is not only a very close-knit, fun team, but it is competitive and there is a learning opportunity at every corner, every practice, every lesson, and riding horses is a never-ending learning curve. I encourage everyone to try out Intercollegiate Dressage if they are riders. 

Did any Otterbein faculty member inspire you? 

Jen Roth, our IDA coach, has inspired me and pushed me every lesson. I could not have helped our team win this championship without her. Our team won because of our amazing, dedicated, hard-working, talented, and inspiring coach, Jen. She helps my confidence because she can “read” the horse and help me hone my riding skills to show off that horse. She pushes me out of my comfort zones to find the best in each horse. She can tell when I need to hear a joke and she knows when I just need a few words of encouragement. Jen has been an inspiration to me since the day I came to Otterbein. I am grateful that she pushes me to live on the edge, to push the limits, to be competitive, all while becoming a more precise, and conscientious rider.  

Thank you, Jen, for all the time and hard work you have put into the Otterbein team and me as a rider