With the addition of 14 new riders this year, the women of the University of Richmond equestrian team are determined to qualify for the regional, zone and national championships in the spring.

The 20-person roster is one of the largest that the team has seen since it formed 10 years ago at the university, said senior Caroline Elia, president of the equestrian team.

"Last year, we moved from 10th place in the region to 6th place," Elia said. "Considering there are about 16 schools in our region, that was a really big accomplishment for us. We definitely want to send more girls to the championships this year. We had three girls go to regionals last year, which was pretty good. We usually only have about one girl go."

Each week, the women drive 25 minutes off campus to train in lesson groups at Haverhill Farm in Glen Allen, Elia said. The team selected the barn as its home base two years ago, she said.

"Riding has always kind of been my escape," Elia said. "When I'm really stressed, the barn has always been a quiet place for me. I can drive off campus every week, and I don't have to think about school or meetings. It's just a chance for me to relax and do what makes me happy. It's something that I can't imagine myself without."

The team members each pay $30 toward university club sport dues and $425 directly to Haverhill Farm for 10 lessons during the semester, said junior Christina Cribari, vice president and treasurer of the equestrian team.

Except for two women who board their own horses at the barn, the team uses horses provided by Haverhill Farm for lessons, Elia said.

"Not everyone has to show," Elia said. "You can also just take lessons and ride for fun. The nice thing about the shows is that they range from very beginner all the way up to people who have shown at top-rated shows. It really gives everyone the chance to get out there and try it. There's a class for everyone."

Of the 20 women on the team, nine have committed to join the show team thus far, Cribari said.

Colleges and universities in the region host the shows through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, Elia said. The women compete against students from other schools in the area, including their biggest rivals, Goucher College and Christopher Newport University, Cribari said.

The first show this season is scheduled for Oct. 7 at Goucher College, Elia said. The team will return to Goucher College for another show on Oct. 27, and then travel to Christopher Newport University on Nov. 3, the College of William and Mary on Nov. 4, and Towson University on Nov. 10, according to the team's website. The team will also compete in four shows in the spring, Elia said.

The IHSA shows are scored based on equitation, in which the judges focus on the rider's abilities and her partnership with the horse, Elia said. Each rider is evaluated individually, which factors into the team's overall score for the show, she said.

"The shows bring a unity to horseback riding, because the majority of the time, it's a very individual competition," Elia said. "So, it's a fun spin for us because the majority of girls have been showing for most their lives. It's a fun way to come together with more people and have a more exciting and unifying goal."

The IHSA shows are also different because the team does not take its own horses, Cribari said. The host school provides the show horses for each team, and the rider is assigned a horse by drawing a name from a hat, she said.

"We don't get any time to test out the horses," Cribari said. "You draw your horse, and then you get on, walk into the ring and begin to be judged. It tests every aspect of your equitation skills and your emotions. It's all up to you to keep your game face on and just do what you know how to do."

By the end of the season, the women also hope to add another show group to their team to compete more locally through the American National Riding Commission, Cribari said. The ANRC shows are different because they are a higher level of competition and the riders are allowed to bring their own horses, she said.

"Overall, I would love to see us go into each horse show and have fun like we always do," Cribari said, "but also just go into the ring and kill it every single time because I know we can."

Contact staff writer Erin Moyer at erin.moyer@richmond.edu