Undergraduate wins top horse riding prize in Kentucky show
THE SANTA CLARA
May 19, 2016
After facing off against other student athletes from around the country, Santa Clara junior Lexie Smallwood snagged a national championship in collegiate equestrian sports this month.
“She is one of the most dedicated, driven student athletes I have had the pleasure of working with,” said Nikki Abercrombie, coach of the Santa Clara equestrian team. “Her work ethic is unparalleled.”
Smallwood traveled to Kentucky to compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association on May 5, winning the title of national champion in her class—Individual Intermediate Fences, in which she leads her horse to jump through a series of obstacles. She beat out 16 other top riders from around the country.
She is also president of Santa Clara’s Equestrian team and worked three jobs during the 2016 winter quarter to pay for more lessons in preparation for nationals. Smallwood worked in an on-campus molecular biology lab researching organ and cell development in organisms, worked for the department for sports medicine and TA’ed for several lab sections.
“We ride down in Morgan Hill, it’s a little bit of a trek and it’s totally worth it once I’m there, but on the ride down I’m just thinking about how much schoolwork I have to do, so that’s the biggest challenge,” Smallwood said.
Sophomore Wendy Conaway, Smallwood’s teammate, said that the dedicated equestrian is always on top of everything, extremely organized and incredibly academically driven. As the president of the team, she does everything she can to help her teammates and make sure they have the best experience, Conaway added.
“When she qualified for nationals she was practicing sometimes three times a week and driving all the way down to Morgan Hill and Gilroy just to practice,” Conaway said. “She put in so much work so she really deserved it.”
Conaway said that it is a “huge honor” for Smallwood to win this award because she was competing against people who hail from schools of all sizes.
“She was competing against all people in the country regardless of school size that were in her level so it’s really amazing that she won that, since we are a small, relatively unheard of school for equestrian sports,” Conaway said.
Smallwood’s love for equestrian sports began when she was seven and received riding lessons for the first time as a Christmas present. She said she loved animals and being outdoors, so riding horses was a natural fit for her.
“It’s such a great break from the rest of my life,” Smallwood said. “It’s something to keep my mind occupied but not in a taxing way like school and work. It gives me something to focus on and work towards.”
She does not practice on the same horse every time she rides—she uses horses from the barn where practice is held and uses her trainer’s horses. Although it is more difficult to ride a horse that she does not have a relationship with, she said it prepares her for competitions. When she competes, she has to randomly choose a horse and has no time to practice on it before going out into the ring.
“It’s like playing a sport, changing all of your equipment and not getting any time to practice with it before going back out,” Smallwood said. “You don’t have a relationship with the horse and you have to earn trust really quickly. It’s really hard to do that in a couple of seconds while you are being judged.”
Smallwood has still set her hopes on earning more titles. She hopes to compete in a grueling three day event next year in which she would compete in a variety of events in addition to jumping.
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