Wearing a buttoned white-collar shirt, covered by a black show coat, black gloves, a black helmet, tan-colored breeches, and tall boots, equestrian Stephanie Main is ready. The attire, which is not only unique, but also represents class, is standard and necessary for show riders.
Before mounting her horse, she checks her girth and adjusts the reins in her hand. She puts her foot in the stirrup and lifts herself into the saddle, before starting her warm-ups.
All of these preparations are for show day.
Show days are the most exciting days within the riding world. They are tense, and unpredictable, but they are what any serious equestrian like Stephanie lives for.
“The best thing you can do for shows like these is know how to ride any horse you are put on,” said Stephanie on how to prepare for the unpredictability the show day can bring. “We’re ready to show our coach enters us into the show. She knows when we we’re ready and are prepared. Going in, we always feel like we can ride anything that we get put on.”
Last month, senior Stephanie Main was one of two riders from the Roger Williams University Equestrian Team to qualify for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships after placing first in the Intermediate Fences division at the Zone 1 Championships. The other rider, sophomore Kaia Lindberg, earned her nationals spot by taking the Reserve Champion title in Zone 1 for Walk-Trot-Canter.
Kaia says the hardest part about competing is working with different horses right before you have to compete. Every horse is different and it can be difficult to get to know the way they behave in such a short time.
Kaia says she’s nervous, but her assistant coach, Rachel Pelisson, says she looks ready.
Kaia will be judged mostly on her position on the horse.
“In order to have good position you have to be strong,” said Pelisson.
Pelisson is also a pilates instructor and has been giving Kaia exercises to do on the ground to help keep her strong. You need muscle strength, and Kaia’s assistant coach encourages Kaia to correct muscles weaknesses on the ground so it’s easier to do when you get on the horse.
Pelisson says there are a ton of things to think about when you’re on the horse, like steering, correcting the horse, and holding your body in one position.
“We always want to find a straight, balanced rider to make a straight, balanced horse” said Pelisson.
The two girls are also the first two Hawks to compete in the IHSA National Championships since 2012. The show begins today in Lexington, Kentucky, hosted by the well-renowned Kentucky Horse Park; or in Stephanie’s words, “the Disney World for horse people.”
“Well, I’ve never even been to Kentucky before,” Stephanie said. “But, they are the horse capital of the country and hold some of the largest shows. This is also my first time riding in a big final so just being there is going to be super cool.”
A 22-year-old senior criminal justice student from Ridgefield, Connecticut, Stephanie has been riding horses since she was 8-years-old. She first happened upon these amazing animals through her mother’s best friend. The friend’s daughter had ridden horses and was also best friends with Stephanie’s older sister, who then followed and started horseback riding also. As most little sister’s do, Stephanie copied everything her older sister did and made horseback riding her passion ever since.
Ridgefield Equestrian Center was the birthplace of her newfound love for horses. Stephanie walked the few minutes from her home to REC every single day to accompany and care for the horses there for hours on end. When she was 9 years old, she competed in her first horse show the following summer. She couldn’t answer how many shows she had exactly competed in, the number was too high to count, but said the number had to be well over 100.
You could say after all that experience, her spot at nationals was a long time coming, but her career on the equestrian team didn’t start at Roger Williams. Stephanie initially went to college in her home state at Western Connecticut State University, but transferred her sophomore year and joined the equestrian team.
While on the team here at RWU, she has excelled in every capacity. She led the team as the High-Point rider early on this season. To qualify for nationals, Stephanie needed to qualify for regionals first. She only needed five points before the season began to qualify. In the Salve Regina University Show, the first of the season, Stephanie placed second, earning four points. In the Brown University Show the very next week, she earned third in the Intermediate Fences division, giving her three points. The finish advanced her into the Open Fences division for the rest of the season, and also qualified her for regionals in the spring. At regionals, she captured first place in Intermediate Fences, then won zones to advance to nationals.
For Stephanie, she says being a great rider is all about believing in yourself.
“You need to have confidence in yourself,” she says. “If you don’t believe in yourself then your horse can sense everything. If you’re nervous your horse will get nervous. When you’re confident you can have a confident horse.”
However, Stephanie says she couldn’t have done it alone. She credits her supportive teammates and their new head coach, Nora Harris, for her individual success.
“The team this year is really close,” she says. “We spend a lot of time at the barn. We just know each other so well. We’re always so comfortable with each other. As a team we all ride the same horses which makes us great at offering each other input and very supportive of one another. I’m gonna miss it.”
Of coach Harris she said: “She’s probably been my biggest supporter. She’s definitely transformed my riding and I think having her as a coach is the reason I’ve excelled so much this year. She puts so much effort into our entire team and she’s just a great person to have as a coach. I don’t think they could have picked a better coach for our team.”
Although, when Stephanie isn’t riding on the team’s horses, she’s riding her own. Her 21-year-old Dutch warmblood, Mary, was given to her by the previous equestrian coach, Ted Torrey, for $1 because of Stephanie’s strong infatuation for her.
“She’s the sweetest horse,” she said. “I’m biased obviously, but you can do anything to her. You can put two people on her back and she doesn’t care. She just has such a nice personality and she’ll never do anything mean to you. I love her a lot.”
Besides her role on the team and competing in shows, Stephanie’s passion for horses transcends those things. To her, riding means something a little more.