Nickels advances to Zone Finals in equestrian

Six riders represented Geneseo’s equestrian team at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Region 2 Championships at St. Lawrence University on Saturday March 28, complementing a strong season with competitive finishes against 11 other teams. Junior Katie Nickels’ season will continue as she moves on to the IHSA Zone Finals on Saturday April 4.

After completing a seven-jump Novice Fences course at Regionals, Nickels was one of five riders called back by the judge to ride a second round of jumps. After she completed a shortened course of three fences, Nickels won first place in the event, qualifying her for the Zones competition. At least one member of Geneseo’s equestrian team has qualified for Zones in eight out of the past nine seasons.

Nickels earned the 36 season points necessary to point out of the Novice equestrian division earlier this year and competed in Regionals. She rode the last three shows of the official season in the Intermediate division. She achieved a first or second place rankings in five of her eight shows this year.

The Fairport, New York-native has been riding horses since she was six and selected Geneseo in part because of its equestrian program. Following the “strategic” nature of equestrian, Nickels didn’t show during her freshman and much of her sophomore years. She described the collaborative strategy of the team as “a game of chess—one girl points out and another girl comes in.”

Nickels said that Zones will present a number of unique challenges and opportunities. While it eliminates tough competitors in Geneseo’s division like St. Lawrence and Cazenovia College, it also presents an unfamiliar environment.

“We have a very tough division and we usually end up third,” she said. “In that sense, I don’t have to ride against those riders because they didn’t qualify because I took one of the spots. So that kind of eliminates that pressure, but then it’s just riding against other riders from the state that I don’t ride against on a normal basis.”

To prepare for the competition—happening less than a week after Regionals—Nickels said she is practicing every day to “[refine] all my skills rather than [learn] anything new.” She is working with a variety of horses in order to stay in shape and to hone her technique.

The other riders who competed at Zones include seniors Ashley Olin, Brianne Szopinski, Chloe Degre, Emily Lockard and Christa Pappalardo. Olin narrowly missed qualifying for Zones, finishing third in Novice Flat.

For Nickels, aside from competing alongside determined teammates, building relationships with the horses is a major and rewarding aspect of the equestrian experience.

“With horses for me, people say you form bonds with your teammates and all that. With riding I think you form those same bonds, but it’s something special when you can be riding this 1,000 pound animal and going over jumps,” she said. “It’s fun for me and I just really enjoy the calmness and the peacefulness of them.”