Sag Harbor resident Emily Rhodes and Southampton resident Brittany Matters are accustomed to seeing each other almost every day in the summer, when they ride and train with Kate O’Donnell and Jenn Bowery at Twin Oaks Stables in Bridgehampton.
But the young equestrians got to meet up a little earlier than usual this past weekend, when they were both competing for their respective college equestrian teams at the Zone 5 Finals at Georgia Southern University in Brooklet, Georgia.
Matters, a Southampton High School graduate, is a sophomore who rides for High Point University in North Carolina. Rhodes, who graduated from the Ross School, is a freshman at the College of Charleston. The colleges compete in different regions but are in the same zone, and because both Rhodes and Matters performed well enough at their respective regional finals, they got the opportunity to ride at zones.
Rhodes did not qualify as an individual for zones, but her entire team won the regional championship, earning a spot at zones. Matters’s team did not qualify for zones, but she finished individually in the top two in the novice over fences division at regionals, earning her a spot at zones as an individual rider.
The zone championships represent the final step for Intercollegiate Horse Show Association hunter seat teams and individuals on their quest to qualify for nationals.
Matters qualified for zones by earning enough points throughout the year in the novice fences division. Once she earned the necessary number of points—referred to as “pointing out” of the division—she began competing in the intermediate division as well, although for the zones competition she rode in the novice division. The day before the regional finals, Matters won High Point Rider in a show at Virginia Tech, a distinction awarded to the rider who earns the most points that day. She was the first rider from her school, High Point, to ever earn that distinction.
At regionals, Matters officially stamped her ticket to zones by winning her over fences class. At zones, Matters finished seventh of nine riders, not high enough to qualify for nationals. But she said simply making it to zones was a big accomplishment.
Rhodes, meanwhile, was the intermediate over fences rider for her team at zones. She placed fourth out of five riders in her class, but her team just missed out on qualifying for nationals, finishing third. The top two teams advanced to nationals.
Rhodes said she was proud of what her team accomplished and also how she performed individually.
“This is the first time in two years we have made it to zones, and coming in third with only a few points separating us from SCAD was a great feeling,” she said. “As a freshman, I had no expectations when it came to riding for the zone’s team. Our coach didn’t let us know who he was choosing until last month. My goals were simply to show and place well in my divisions, and I completely surpassed those goals by going and performing well at zone finals.”
Matters said that one of her goals this year was to “point out” of the novice division and move up to intermediate, which she accomplished. Once she accomplished that goal, Matters said she set her sights on qualifying for zones and even had an eye toward nationals.
“Zones was a bit of a letdown, just because I know I was capable of qualifying for nationals, but I’m really proud that I made it this far, and especially proud of my other achievements for our team as well,” she said. At each show during the season, there are generally three or four riders from the High Point team in each class, and the coach must choose one rider of that group whose points will count for the team score at the end of the day. That rider is referred to as the “point rider,” and Matters was designated as the point rider for the majority of the shows.
Intercollegiate riding is very different from horse shows most riders in the area take part in during the summer. The fences that both Rhodes and Matters are jumping in college are much lower than what they are capable of jumping, but intercollegiate riding presents different challenges. Rhodes summed it up this way: “The team hosting the competition provides the horses, and you are able to watch them school in the morning. You then draw a horse randomly and prepare to get on it. As a rider, you are not allowed to warm up at all. That means that once you enter the ring, you have only about 30 seconds before the first jump to figure out the horse you have.”
Both Rhodes and Matters agreed that getting to see each other at zones was a nice surprise.