Equestrian finishes strong in first semester under coach Kelly Poff

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The team finished two points out of first place in their weekend show. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Meyers)

AJ Traub

The fall season has ended for the Lafayette equestrian team with a close second-place finish at Valley Mist Farm in Oley, Pa.

The event, hosted by Kutztown and Alvernia, saw the Leopards finish just two points behind Rutgers. After a seventh place finish in their first show of the season, Lafayette has pulled up to second place behind Rutgers in the season standings heading into the spring. 

In her first semester with the team, Poff said she was impressed with the team’s performance, especially since the team halved in size from 30 to 15 from the spring to the fall.

“I am so very little behind Rutgers with 15 kids,” Poff said. “Rutgers has a very good team and my goal will be to challenge them and come out on top. What killed us was our very first show. Since then, they’ve been in first, second or third every time.”

Sophomore Amanda Fanning won her flat class, and freshman Chloe Meyers won her walk/trot/canter advanced flat class. Senior captain Justine Perrotti was the reserve high point rider, winning flats and fences in her open class. Perrotti’s 14 points tied her for most on the day with a novice rider, but she was unable to win her question-off to earn high point rider.

Perrotti said the judge of the match holds a question-off when it has been a long day, especially when there is a difference in level between the riders in the tie. The show was an 11-hour affair for the team, and Perrotti rode in the open class, the highest level and two levels above novice.

Although Perrotti answered all of her questions correctly, the judge awarded the other rider as high point and Perrotti as reserve high point, or runner up, because she “hesitated” while the other rider answered immediately.

Individually, Perrotti has qualified for intermediate equitation over fences and is nearing qualification for open equitation on the flat. Her ultimate goal is the Cacchione Cup, an individual award for the high point scorer for the season.

“I was very pleased with my performance and thought after all my hard work, and…extra lessons to try and prepare to catch up to other riders in my division, that it really carried forward to how I rode my flat and fences,” she said. “I was able to fix what my coaches told me was what I needed to fix most. Being in the highest competition, every detail matters.”

Poff had worked with team members before being named the coach, but was limited to practices in previous seasons. Now, she said she has much more communication with the riders.

“I can concentrate more on specific issues the riders have while they’re showing,” Poff said. “Before, I wasn’t at the shows. [Now] I am teaching them at home and coaching them at the show. This is new for these kids because their [previous] coach coached them at the show, but wasn’t able to teach them as much.”

Poff cited turnout as a big area where she was able to help the team improve immediately. She has taught the riders how to look more professional at shows, which she said is an area that has led to the team scoring higher. However, she said the team still manages to have fun, despite the long days.

Poff’s transition to head coach has allowed the team to practice just ten minutes away from campus, allowing for everyone to have more time. Poff said she is mindful of the riders’ academic obligations and has made herself available for communication. 

“I’ve never experienced the team getting this close so fast in my years on the team,” Perrotti said. “Having a coach that we practice with and goes to shows had been a big aid to riders, so she knows what they struggle with in practices.”

Poff said she has seen improvements from Fanning, Meyers, and sophomores Charlie Brownstein and Haoyu Niu.

“I’ve seen our riders that have not had as much show experience excel,” Poff said. “Their weekly riding lessons can be private or semi-private, and I think they’re getting more individual attention. So kids that may not have been point riders years before are not only doing well, but they’re winning their classes.”

Although Poff said she wants to see the team grow back to its former size with some riders planning to study abroad in the spring, she recognizes the achievements of the group and how they’ve bounced back from a slow start. 

“It’s really been a great experience for myself and the riders,” she said. “Obviously, I’d like to be in first place, not second, but since the team is so small, I think we’re exceeding my expectations.”

“We’ve been champion or reserve champion at several of the shows, and the team seems like a big family,” she added.