May 2023

Santa Cruz Riders Make Debut on National Stage

The horse-riding women of Santa Cruz’s White Rock Interscholastic Equestrian Association were shocked and ecstatic when they won a slot to compete in the biggest national riding competition in the country by one point.

The team, which practices at the Monte Vista Christian’s equestrian facility in Watsonville, won the slot for a trip to North Carolina at a tightly contested regional competition in Paso Robles.
Five of the team’s 11 women—all about 16—gathered enough points of the season to move onto the biggest competition.

Three of the most seasoned equestrians: Paris Mahoney, Cavan Smith, and Meagan Mejia have honed their skills with IEA since middle school; while the other two riders Lea Bianco and Elyssa Marcucci are new to the program but by no means new to the sport.

“These girls live and breathe horses, spending most of the day at the barn, riding and caring for the horses,” said Coach Tesi Pickett. “They work hard and are very deserving of this chance to showcase their skills.”

Mahoney and Smith will compete as varsity open riders jumping a two and a half foot fence height, while Mejia will represent for varsity intermediate, Bianco in JV novice, and Marcucci in JV beginner.
For many of the girls on the team, the sport is more than just something they go to after school, but a chance to be a part of something bigger and grow as a team.

Mahoney says the most important metric for their success is to “Definitely keep a level head. That’s what matters most is coming out and being indifferent, not letting the stress get to you.”
The young women practice riding six days every week and spend countless hours caring for and maintaining their horses.

For years, White Rock IEA practiced at White Rock Ranch, hence the name, owned by Mahoney’s family. This marks the first year that the team practices at Monte Vista Christian School’s equestrian facility, and practices with their 34 horses: including two of their most beloved Donny and Pete.

“In practice we’ll ride one then swap so we have the opportunity to ride different horses,” said Smith.
From April 28-May 1, they will travel to Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina to face off against the best teams in the country in the Hunt Seat IEA National Finals.

“I think it will be pretty tough, this is our first time going. I’m very excited and we have put a lot of work into this,” said Smith about heading into the biggest competition in the history of the team.

White Rock IEA has already beaten insurmountable odds just by qualifying to the most competitive equestrian event in the country.

They compete in zone 10 region 2, and the first step for making it to nationals is to score a total of 21 points against regional teams including those from local ranches.

From there the opposition only became more advanced in regionals, but White Rock played to their strengths and was one of only three teams to travel to Paso Robles for the zone 10 finals – which encompasses all of California, Hawaii, and part of Nevada. From there, only the single best team advances to the National Finals.

It was in a moment of ecstatic disbelief when the women heard the announcer crown them victorious by just one point.

Every hour spent waking up at 5:30 am to prepare the horses for competition, or weekends together watching in awe at professionals pull off impossible stunts they one day dreamed of maneuvering; it all materialized along with the realization that – while they would give everything they’ve got come competition day – each of them earned the biggest stage in the nation through half a lifetime of dedication.

By Quinn Southall

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