BY GRACE SALMON
Three Most Outstanding Player Awards. One National Collegiate Equestrian Association Rider of the Month. One United Equestrian Conference Rider of the Month. Seventeen year old Abbie Hopkins has excelled in the format of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association.
A native of Seekonk, Massachusetts, Hopkins is a Freshman at the University of Tennessee at Martin. “I choose UTM because I was looking for a school in the south to get away from the New England winters and wanted a school with a riding team. When I came to visit, I immediately fell in love with how friendly everyone was, the campus, and the riding program. Everyone I met was nothing but friendly which made the choice easy.” Before making the move to Martin to start her collegiate equestrian career, Hopkins rode in the the 3’6″ equitation and High Children’s jumpers. Although she also qualified and went to Maclay regionals this past year, she has found that the jumpers are her favorite classes to compete in.
“The best thing about being part of the team is instantly having your own family. It’s a bit nerve racking to move out and away from all your family and friends from home and start a new college life. [The team] is like having 30 sisters you can fall back on.” All of the girls that join a NCEA team must make the adjustment from a strictly individual sport to having teammates. Hopkins says, “We are like one big family and are always happy for everyone’s success which has got to be the best thing. No matter if I have a good or bad day everyone is always there to cheer me on or pick me back up.”
Hopkins has been a working student for trainers Annie Dotoli and Aster Pieter, riding sale horses in all 3 rings. “For the past two winters, I worked and rode every day with my trainers for the entire HITS Ocala show circuit.” When asked how the transition from the “A” Circuit lifestyle to the NCEA was for her, Hopkins explains, “I was very used to riding a new horse everyday and having to figure out how to work with each one to get them to do what I needed.” Being a working student “not only gave me experience showing many different horses, but also on how to care and work with them. Because I was able to ride so many different horses, the transition to [the NCEA] format was not too difficult.”
“My favorite horse on the team hands down is my own care horse Finn.” Much like Hopkins herself, Finn is relatively new to the program but has already become a valuable asset to the team. “Because he is a bit younger than some of the others, there was definitely a small adjustment period for him. Now that he has been with us for a few months, he has become such a solid citizen who not only wants to be competitive, but will do anything you ask of him and will take care of you when you need help.” Since the horse’s arrival late in the semester last year, Abbie has found a place in her heart for Finn, “He has the best personality and is just the sweetest horse. We are all so lucky to have him on our team.”
Starting in eight meets for the 2017-2018 regular season, Hopkins has been an integral part in the UTM Equestrian Team’s success – which holds the eighth spot in the national regular season team rankings. With a career high of 93 points on the flat, Hopkins secured both UEC and NCEA Rider of the Month titles for the month of October. Hopkins became the first Skyhawk to receive the NCEA Rider of the Month honor since the NCEA initiated the title. Abbie Hopkins has used her horse show experience to launch a successful career in the collegiate equestrian arena.