Fairfield’s equestrian team sends two riders to the national finals

Fairfield’s equestrian team sends two riders to the national finals

by John Torsiello

Two members of Fairfield University’s Equestrian Team (FUET) — Irene Peluso ’15, of Farmington, Conn., and Maddie Davis ’17, of Granby, Conn. — qualified for the 2014 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championships. They competed in Harrisburg, Penn., in May, against teams from across the country.

Peluso and Davis earned their tickets to nationals at the IHSA Zone 2 Championships held in April at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport. To qualify, Fairfield competed against teams from Skidmore, Cornwell, Trinity, St. Lawrence, Binghamton, UConn, and other colleges and universities. FUET helped to host the event.

Peluso is a pre-med major in the College of Arts and Sciences, while Davis is an accounting and management major in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business.

Peluso and her horse finished second in Individual Open Equitation Over Fences, in which a rider basically guides the horse around a course of eight or so jumps. Judges look for consistency and how well the rider and horse execute the course without making it look difficult.

Davis finished first in Individual Intermediate Equitation On the Flat, which does not involve fences. All competitors are in the ring at once and are directed to walk, trot, canter, etc. A rider is judged on “equitation” (correct positioning on the horse), and how well the rider pilots the horse, while still keeping position in line.

Being around these trained animals is a thrill for competitor and spectator alike. Hooves pound as the horses run through a series of jumps, their powerful, muscled bodies alert as they parade for the judges. Equestrian sports is really a marriage of horse and human, with the rider controlling (sometimes just barely) the steed beneath. When it all comes together, the integrated movement is beautiful. Riders and their horses work together for years to attain this empathic and responsive relationship.

Founded in 1992, FUET is an integral part of the University’s Department of Recreation. Currently, the club has about 25 members. Throughout the academic year, lessons are held at two sites, Sea Horse Stables, LLC, and The Ridge Equestrian Center, both located in Newtown, Conn.

They may not receive the spotlight that varsity sports do, but the University’s club and intramural sports programs — like the equestrian program — are vital links between students and the school. With options ranging from martial arts to sailing, hundreds of Fairfield students take advantage of the opportunity to compete at a high level, or just participate for the fun of it.

“Club sports at Fairfield has always been supportive of our team,” said Equestrian Coach Naomi Gauruder. ”We have also been fortunate to have the help of Kristen Abbatiello-Neff ’95, a Fairfield alumna and one of the team’s founding members. She is a local trainer who has helped us find nice horses to ride and has given some of our riders extra opportunity for time in the saddle when she needs help at her barn. I am hoping that with two riders qualifying for the National Finals, this will bring more attention and financial support for our team.”

Peluso said the opportunity to ride was big factor in her decision to come to Fairfield. “The two main things I looked for were strong pre-med programs and riding teams. Fairfield University had the entire package: The health professions program is one of the best, and the riding team was a well-established program in which I could see myself being successful and also contributing to further progress and development.”

Davis also knew she wanted to ride in college but wasn’t sure what level of competition was right for her. “When I decided not to go NCAA, Fairfield was one of my top choices. I knew it was a good place for me.”

She said that not too many people know Fairfield has an equestrian team, but “we’re trying hard to change that.” She added, “For the most part, the team members financially support riding and competing by ourselves. This doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility, and it can be hard for some people to manage, but we try our best to let everyone that wants to ride, ride.”

Peluso and Davis are optimistic about the future of the team.

“Maybe one day we can even have our own stables on campus. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the underclassmen manage to make that happen,” said Peluso. “With the continued support of faculty, our coach, and the effort put in by our team members, I believe that this team will only continue to progress.”

Offered Davis, “I would love to see the program expand. I think Fairfield itself is a fantastic school and this area of Connecticut has tons of riding opportunities. A larger program would attract a lot of really great riders.”

Gauruder is also upbeat.

“I think our future looks good. This is only my third season coaching the team, but I see us continuing to grow and to open up opportunities for the students to compete at a broader level.”