Barbie Savani’s expression betrays little emotion as she canters around the outdoor ring at Haverhill Farm in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, on a towering bay horse named Spencer.
“Do you feel like you’re dying yet?” trainer Libby White calls from the center of the circle. In response to Savani’s resounding “yes,” White jokes, “Then my job is done.”
Savani continues to warm up outside before moving to the equestrian center’s indoor ring, where she practices jumping a series of seven fences in preparation for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Zone Championship.
Savani, WC ’17, is the only member of University of Richmond's Club Equestrian Team who qualified for Zones this year. The competition will take place on April 8 at St. Andrews University in North Carolina. It is the last hurdle Savani has to jump to make it to IHSA’s National Championship.
“The competition’s probably going to be stiff,” Savani said, removing Spencer’s saddle at the end of her lesson and preparing to give him a bath. “I’m not saying I don’t have a chance, because I do, definitely. It’s just, you know, it’s not going to be easy.”
This is Savani’s third time qualifying for zone championships during her time at Richmond. Her sophomore year, she advanced to nationals, where she placed fourth in intermediate fences. But on April 8, the stakes will rise — Savani will be competing a level up in the highest division, open fences.
“The scary thing about horseback riding is that you do all this practicing and then you’re in the ring for two minutes, and that’s all you have,” Savani said.
To prepare for the competition, Savani has been working on her form, riding several different horses at weekly Wednesday lessons.
Savani, who has been riding since age six, said the presence of a club equestrian team helped her choose UR. Now in her senior year, she is one of the team’s strongest riders and its vice president.
Although each member of the equestrian team competes solo, Savani uses her role as vice president to make it a team sport. Both coach Natalie Shinnamon as well as the equestrian team president Emily Larrabee said Savani was a role model to younger members on the team.
“When I was a freshman,” Savani said, “I felt like I had a lot of upperclassmen to support me and give me advice on things, and now that I’m an upperclassman, I can do the same thing.”
After her return from studying abroad in Australia, Savani played an integral role in reshaping the team by recruiting new members and more than doubling its size.
As a leadership duo, she and Larrabee focused on building morale and camaraderie amongst the team’s nearly 20 members.
“The team dynamic this year is a huge improvement than it has been in the past,” Larrabee said. “People are definitely a lot closer and that really helps when we go into shows and competitions.”
“The team can be really family-oriented, which is something that’s very hard to do in the equestrian industry,” Shinnamon said. “It just really is nice to see the bonds that these girls form in a sport that used to be so individual.”
Looking to Zones on April 8, Shinnamon said Savani “needs to remember to ride with her body and not her brain.”
“I’m really good, but I’m in my head — that’s my downfall,” Savani said. “What I’ve been working on since [Nationals] is really being focused when I’m in the ring. It’s not really worrying about ‘Oh, I’m at Nationals’ or ‘Oh, I’m at Zones,’ just knowing it’s another trip and if I do well, I do well.”
Contact writer Missy Schrott at email@example.com.