By Cait Kemp
To get to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Nationals, competitors must place in the top two in Regionals and move on and place top two in Zones. If that is accomplished, competitors will get the opportunity to compete at Nationals, where they will face off against the best from across the country.
This process is an extremely difficult one, proving that only the best of the best make it to that point. Kaitlyn Kupiec of the Springfield College club equestrian team succeeded in that process, and did so as just a first-year student.
The equestrian team at Springfield College is one of the lesser-known and smaller club teams on campus. Currently only two students show in competitions. Two others joined as beginners and are hoping to show in the spring. Kupiec is a leader on the team, showing in Open, which is the highest class at competitions, and showing off her skills through her success throughout the season.
Kupiec joined the team last season as a freshman and was a force on the team from the start. In horse shows, competitors can place individually or as a team. With only two team members, it is almost impossible for Springfield to place as a team so it is up to the members’ individual scores to determine if they move on to the postseason competitions in the spring.
An accumulative score of 28 is needed to go to Regionals, and after the fall season, Kupiec is already only seven points away in the jumping category and three away in the flat category. She still has the entirety of the spring regular season to qualify.
The most impressive part of Kupiec’s trip to Nationals is that she competed against Division I university’s equestrian teams. The IHSA is not a part of the NCAA, so schools could have a small, club team like the one at Springfield or large, established teams with the top athletes. She is competing against other riders of all different skill levels, and placed second in both Regionals and Zones before finishing 13th at Nationals.
Kupiec came to Springfield College not expecting to ride anymore. She began the sport at just five years old and competed through middle and high school. Not knowing there was a team at Springfield, she had been ready to give up the sport she did for 15 years.
“My godmother got me into it when I was four or five, and no one in my family was ever into this and somehow it just took off and I started doing it every day of the week after school,” Kupiec said. “I came here not expecting to do it, I didn’t even know they had a team.”
She discovered there was a team after seeing an Instagram post from the club’s account. She messaged them and went to the information meeting they were holding for anyone interested in joining the team.
“I went to the meeting, and obviously I was like, ‘Yes, I’m going to join,’ I didn’t even need to hear anything,” Kupiec said.
Kupiec still goes back to her home barn of Harmony Hill Farm, located in Great Barrington, Mass., to work with her trainer. It is the place she learned everything she knows about horseback riding, so she likes to give back and help the next generation.
“It’s cool because now that I’m older, I get to help my trainer train the horses,” she said.
She has been able to take her expertise from riding at the collegiate level and make a full-circle journey back at her barn at home. It shows her grace and willingness to help others, and how much she truly loves the sport that she had thought she would have to give up.
Kupiec’s journey in riding has been a long and impressive one, and continues to be as she concludes the fall season of her sophomore year. Going into the spring, she is looking once again to qualify for Nationals and place better than she did last year. With her high scores already this school year, it surely won’t be far out of reach.
Photo Courtesy Andrew Ryback