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The Hampton Roads Academy/Foxtail Farm Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) middle school team, as well as one high school team rider, qualified for the 2015 Hunt Seat National Finals.
In order to qualify for nationals, which is held April 24 to 26 at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., riders and teams must finish in the top three within their respective zones.
Hampton Roads Academy/Foxtail Farm’s IEA team competes in Zone 3, which encompasses teams from Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The middle school team finished third overall during the Zone 3 finals, earning a spot in the national show.
Ninth-grade rider Meredith Hutchens qualified individually for nationals in the Novice Over Fences, which involves clearing eight jumps over 18-inch high rails, by taking second in the Zone 3 finals.
Hutches becomes just the second individual rider from Hampton Roads Academy, which teamed up with the Foxtail Farms team in 2011 to form the larger Hampton Roads Academy/Foxtail Farm team, to qualify for the national show.
In 2011, Lucy Smith became the first Hampton Roads Academy rider to qualify for nationals, reaching the show in the Novice Over Fences.
“Even though we’ve had no national champions, to go to nationals for the second time in four years is remarkable,” Coach Audrey Smith said about her team.
The national competition will provide unique challenges for the riders.
Instead of getting to ride a horse they are familiar with, riders are forced to choose a horse provided by the competition at random, picking names out of a hat that determines what horse they ride. This system attempts to level the playing field and to have all participants ride horses of a similar caliber, which tests the talents of the rider instead of the horse.
Riders that participate in jumping events get to attempt two jumps as a warmup before formal competition begins, while riders who compete in flat competition, which does not involve clearing jumps, get no practice time.
Despite the uncertainty that comes with riding unfamiliar horses in a pressure-packed situation, Smith thinks her riders have proven themselves during the regular season and should be competitive at the national level.
“Our middle school team has been a top team all season,” she said. “Meredith has been a top rider all season. I think her chances are good. We came out of our region and zone, which are some of toughest in IEA. I think we have as good of a chance as anybody.”
To learn more about the Hunt Seat National Finals, click here.