Lafayette leaps ahead at Kutztown: Youth drives Equestrian team toward success

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Katherine Weeks

The Lafayette Equestrian team continued their winning ways this past Saturday with a victory at their first show of the season, hosted by Kutztown University.  In her seven years as head coach, Erin Gittenssquad has won regionals five times and hopes to make this year their sixth.

The Leopards finished with 34 total points on Saturday, pushing past the rest of their competition and earning the High Point team title.

Lafayette rides for Zone 3, Region 4 in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, which consists of teams from Bloomsburg University, Cedar Crest College, De Sales University, East Stroudsburg University, Kutztown University, Lehigh University, Moravian College, Princeton University, Rutgers University and University of Scranton.

The 20-rider squad will compete against all of these teams at each of their remaining seven shows this fall.

Impressive individual performances from freshman Justine Perrotti, sophomore Monica Meng and many others spearheaded the team’s overall success. Perrotti finished as Reserve High Point Rider and Meng qualified for Regionals in the Walk Trot Division.

“In my over fences class I had gotten second, and in my flat class I got first,” Perrotti said. “But another girl got first and first. So she got High Point Rider and I was eligible for Reserve High Point rider because there were three other girls who also got second and first in their classes, so at the end of the day we had a ride off…and I ended up winning.”

At some shows, like Kutztown, riders will compete in both fences classes, which involve jumping, and flat classes, geared more towards showmanship. Depending on numbers and division though, riders may compete in just one of the two.

Shows are also split into five classes: walk trot, walk trot canter, novice, intermediate and open. Perrotti, despite her 10 years of riding experience, competed in the novice class.

“I’m actually kind of happy to be put in novice because I didn’t have that opportunity in high school,” Perrotti said. “I have the chance to go to a higher standing and possibly qualify for nationals.”

Over the years riders qualify for higher classes, like Meng. Her success this past weekend moved her from her walk trot to walk trot canter. This coming Sunday will be her first time cantering in a competition.

“She’s been on a really quick trajectory,” said Gittens, who graduated from Lafayette in 2006. “She’s really impressed me with her ability to pick up new skills and her ability to absorb from just watching other riders.”

Sophomore Becca Bender also competed on Saturday and placed second in her open fences division, which is her highest placement to date according to Gittens.

“We created a plan of how we wanted to ride the course and what we thought would be most successful both based off of how she rides and off of the horse that she’d be riding,” Gittens said. “She executed that plan very well.”

The team continues their competition this Sunday at Heaven’s Gate Farm where Lafayette will co-host with Lehigh.