Caroline Elia, a senior and the outgoing president of the University of Richmond equestrian team, placed sixth at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Zone Finals on Saturday, April 6, in Laurinburg, N.C.

Elia, who placed second and third in her open fences and open flat classes in regionals on March 30, was the only rider from the Richmond equestrian team to advance to zones. Sophomore Erin Flynn and junior Christina Cribari also competed in regionals and placed sixth and fifth, respectively.

"Saturday was definitely bittersweet since it ended up being the last horse show of my collegiate career, but I'm still pleased with my ride," Elia said. "I was competing against the best riders in our zone, and placing sixth was still an accomplishment."

To qualify for this past weekend's competition a rider must have had at least 28 points in each of his or her classes, Elia said. These points are accumulated throughout the season at different horse shows, she said. In the IHSA, first place gives a rider seven points, second place gives a rider five points and third place gives a rider three points, Elia said.

Elia is the first rider on the Richmond equestrian team to advance to zones since the 2009-2010 season. In preparation for both regionals and zones, Elia said she had practiced three times a week and tried to take everything day by day.

Each region sent its top two riders to the competition this past weekend, Elia said. There were eight riders total in each of the classes, and the top two riders are advancing on to nationals in May, she said.

Elia had not known which horse she would ride in her classes until Saturday, she said, as riders pull each of their horses' names out of a hat before their class. Regionals were held at Goucher College, where many of the regular season's shows are held, so the horses at that competition were more familiar to her, Elia said.

"It's definitely a luck-of-the-draw thing, and we see that during regular shows too," Elia said. "Sometimes you get really lucky and pull the well-trained horse and everyone is really jealous of you, and sometimes you pull the crazy one that hasn't done anything in six months and you're the first one to hop on it."

For Elia, it was finally qualifying for zones after four years -- especially after coming really close last year -- that really made the weekend special, she said. Although the horses she has competed with over the past four years have always been unpredictable, Elia said she liked this type of competition better.

Elia said she credits her trainers, Jessica Strauss and Natalie McManus, as being big factors in her advancement to zones this year. Strauss, who rode in college and also competed in zones, and Cribari accompanied Elia to the competition.

"Caroline carried herself with confidence, entered the ring and did what she is remarkable at doing: she rode beautifully," Cribari said. "It was an honor to have a member of our team represent the university at zones, but it was also exciting to see that Caroline's work has paid off, and she closed her IHSA career with a beautiful course."

Elia has served as both the team's president and vice president during her time at Richmond, and credits the barn switch to Haverhill Farm during her junior year for much of the team's growth and improvement. Cribari said that Elia has kept the team moving forward and has consistently worked to better her teammates' riding skills and inter-team relationships.

"My experience on the team wouldn't be anywhere near what it has been had she not been there with me," Cribari said.

Contact reporter Anika Kempe at anika.kempe@richmond.edu

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