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Randolph College student puts in the extra time to ensure success in the show ring

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On any given Monday morning, most college kids are sleeping off another wild summer weekend. Not Eileen Buckingham.

Eileen, 20, makes the 45 minute drive to MerryMount Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Md. five days a week from La Plata, Md.

At 10 a.m. on this particular Monday morning, Eileen was the only person at the barn other than the caretaker of the 30-some horses that reside at the facility. At such a large barn, this is a rarity, she said.

“I’d rather come out early and be alone anyways,” Eileen said. “It’s easier to get a good ride in, and sometimes Daisy gets angry when there are a lot of horses in the ring.”

Eileen schools Daisy over fences early on a Monday morning at MerryMount Equestrian Center in Upper Malboro, Md. (Photo by: Brittani Bowling/Towson University Student)

Daisy is the 16-year-old horse Eileen brought home from college for the summer and is paying to take care of herself. A rising senior at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., Eileen has been a valuable contributor to the school’s strong Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team. She began riding for the Wildcats her freshman year.

Her trainer at school, J.T. Tallon, allowed Eileen the opportunity to bring the big bay home for the summer. Having Daisy close to home helps Eileen fine tune her equitation and stay focused on riding during the break from school since she would otherwise be horseless.

“I was the only one riding her at school anyways, and I think J.T. knew that if I didn’t have something to ride I would probably not be riding much since I don’t have my pony anymore,” Eileen said.

Although she has no obligation to work with the horse owned by Randolph College, Eileen says she has made a real connection with the mare and enjoys putting in the extra time to keep her in shape.

“I like having goals to work towards. Showing motivates me in other parts of my life too,” she said.

Behind the thick, curly black hair and her quirky, sarcastic personality, Eileen has the focus and determination of a true sportsman.

She has been riding for 10 years and received her first horse in 2005; a large pony named GiGi. After a year of adjusting to one another, the pair qualified for the Pony Jumpers, where fences are 3-feet-3-inches in height, at some of the most prestigious horse shows in the nation, including the USEF Pony Finals in 2006, and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, GiGi died last year.

Eileen also dedicated six years, from 2001 to 2007, as a member of the MerryMount National Capital Equitation League A Team. The team, which practiced once a week for five months during the fall and winter, competed against other Washington area show and lesson barns on the weekends.

“Eileen is always upbeat and ready to crack a joke,” Sarah Webb, 22, said. “She always took direction well and kept us all relaxed. As her captain I always found her to be a great asset in helping me organize and get things done in preparation for the meets,” Webb said.

The NCEL is good a good precursor for riders who wish to compete on a college team. Structured like the IHSA, Eileen says she adjusted well to the team.

At Randolph College, she is required to practice with her teammates and they regularly compete with other area universities, including the prestigious Sweet Briar College, University of Virginia, and Virginia Intermont College, all known for their strong IHSA teams. Last year, Eileen qualified for Regionals for her respective division despite being injured.

However, her successes have not come without hours in the saddle and plenty of one-on-one time with MerryMount trainer Catherine Farley, and Randolph College trainer Tallon, to work past the challenges.

“For a while I really had to get used to the height of the fences,” Eileen said. “Also just working with the horse to not only feel confident myself, but to make them feel confident too…knowing their feed and turnout schedules and what they like, and using what you have underneath you to get the job done,” she said.

Eileen credits horse showing to making her a much more adjustable and agreeable person, and others acknowledge her laid-back personality as being critical to the rest of the team in such an emotionally and physically demanding sport.

“Eileen is definitely not the type to psych herself out with nerves. Her competition experience has prepared her for anything that can be thrown her way in the show ring on any level,” Webb said. “She’s an incredible team player and a phenomenal rider in every aspect of riding. I think that it’s her cool head and take on riding that keeps her straight and always ready to perform.”

“She cared more than just about winning. She wanted to have a good time and for her and everyone else to do their best, so this combined with her hard work meant she was relaxed and able to do her best and rock it, and she was always there to support her friends and barn mates,” Courtney Dyson, 20 said.

Dyson competed against Eileen at local horse shows during high school and developed a friendship over the years. But regardless of what fellow riders say, the cool-under-pressure mentality takes consistent work and plenty of practice.

“Before coming to school, Catherine would push me way harder in lessons so that the shows are easy,” Eileen said. “I really like going to the shows and feeling like I could compete with the other barns,” she said. “The hard work is rewarding.”


Written by brittanibowling

June 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

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