“Cheers to 10 Fabulous Years” Theme of Alumni Tournament of Champions

Tara Mathews. Photo by Skylands Photography

“Cheers to 10 fabulous years” was the theme of the 10th year of the hunt seat side of the Alumni Tournament of Champions show, which was held Sunday, June 6th at the iconic USET in Gladstone, NJ.  In just 10 years, this event has grown from 12 riders to 134.

This was the first time since 2016 that hunt seat and western were held the same day, at the same location. The day began with Michael Dowling judging all of the over fences in the main ring.  After a quick clear of the ring, western horsemanship and reining took center stage in the outdoor with Kelli Wainscott judging, while Michael judged the hunt seat flat heats in the indoor.  After western concluded, it was back to hunt seat in the main ring for all of the finals! 

Normally, Western riders compete for six trophies (Steve Maxwell Alumni Horsemanship, Avon Advanced Horsemanship, NRHA Alumni Reining NHRA Advanced Reining, Amanda Belcher Western Alumni Cup, and IHSAA future alumni cup). This year a new class was added, and it was the most popular class…Ranch riding.  It was Veronica Tennariello who will add her name to the trophy first, besting 15 other riders. 

Hunt seats riders were competing in eight various classes to become the 10th name added to the following trophy classes: Adult Ammy Strong 2’3 Fences, Gale Polleck 2’6” fences, Sandra Sayre Alumni Flat, Dreamers & Schemer’s Advanced Flat, and the Mane Jane Alumni cup. In addition, three newer classes added a seventh name: the Campus Equestrian Reunion Fences, Equi-Jet Reunion Fences, and the IHSAA Future Alumni Cup. 

A special hunt seat class for the 10-year anniversary was the Founders Battle. This class brought back all of the previous Alumni Cup winners to battle it out for $500 in prize money. Since Kayleigh Burke won the class twice, there were eight riders, including Amy Kriwitsky (2012 VFMAC), Heather Johnson (2013 centenary), Sara McCoy (2014 Centenary), Megan Mendenhall (2015 St. Timothy’s), Bianca (Lupo) DeStefano (2016 Jentri), Tara Matthews (2017 Briarwood), Burke (2018/2019 Briarwood), and Allyson Villareale (2020 Rosewood).  This was a two round competition of combined scores for fences and flat. Scores were totaled, and the winner was Tara Matthews.  

Tara Mathews with organizers Lena Andrews and Jamie Mast Windle. Photo by Skylands Photography

In addition to winning the battle, Matthews also topped 17 others to win the Alumni Cup once again, adding her name to the Mane Jane Cup trophy.  Reserve Champion in the Cup was Holland University grad, Catherine Hensly. 

It was a hot day to be riding, especially in full chaps and dark colors (It does not appear as western has adopted the mesh/air flowing attire hunt seat has).  In the full sun of the afternoon, western took place, starting with Ranch Riding, followed by a mix of horsemanship and reining classes. The riders voted to forgo individual patterns for horsemanship and to just test on the rail to save the horses from the added work in the heat. After many classes, it was previous Cup winner Rebecca Folk who topped the charts, adding her name once again to the Amanda Belcher Memorial Western Alumni Cup. One more new award for 2021 was graciously sponsored by Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center, given to the high point and reserve western riders of the day. Championship honors were awarded to Rebecca Folk, with Eleanor Harowicz taking Reserve. 

Rebecca Folk. Photo by Skylands Photography

At least 11 new riders were welcomed to the alumni ranks in the Future Alumni Cup, sponsored by IHSAA. This class was open to graduating seniors between 2020 and 2021.  The IHSAA Future Alumni Cup combines the score of an over fences round, a flat round, and a test for the top six riders.  This year, the trophy went home with Mia Fellin of Marist College, with her previous teammate Sarah Levi in reserve.  

Ultimately, eight new Hunt Seat champions went home with huge smiles and amazing prizes from generous sponsors.  Thanks to the diligence of co-founder Lena Andrews Licata, every ribbon winner went home with at least one additional prize.

In addition to individual classes, there was one “team” competition.  Riders joined forces with people they may or may not have known before Saturday or Sunday.  Teams of three competed in the team challenge, where scores were tracked for each team member, with the lowest score dropped.  Teams could add bonus points for having riders from different states and competition zones. Additional points were also awarded to the team with the best name.  This year, Perri’s Leather sponsored the class, with each winning team member taking home a Perri’s Leather Halter. Team “Horse Draws and White Claws” were best, while reserve team “Now & 10” took home pullovers from Perri’s. The Best Team Name, awarded an extra point by judge Michael Dowling, went to “Fresh Off Stall Rest.”

This year Alliant Private Client Insurance was a title sponsor. IHSA founder Bob Cacchione also made a guest appearance. Fulkerson Winery generously sponsored all the ribbons and some wine this year. Nutrena sponsored the draw, including a prize for the hunt seat and western rider who had the lucky draw No. 1. Class, prize, and goodie bag sponsors included Mane Jane, IHSA Alumni Association, Campus Equestrian, Sandra Sayre, Laren Sykes, Gale Pollock, Avon, Arbonne, Adult Ammy Strong, Platinum Performance, She-Fit, Kong Equine, Horse Scents, Success Equestrian, Essex Classics, Dreamers & Schemers, Brooke’s belts, Crafty Corgi, Bob’s Saddles,  Maryland Saddlery, Bronco Western Supply Perri’s Leather, Smartpak, FarmVet, Equi-Jet, SeaShore Stables, and Devocoux. 

The IHSAA sponsored pre-party / end of year awards reception returned this year, held in the USET rotunda.  This year’s high point rider accumulations were done a bit differently, since there were no “live” IHSA shows this season.  Points were calculated off of the virtual ATOC show, as well as the three Virtual IHSA hosted shows.  Six places were awarded ribbons and saddle pads sponsored by Jessie’s Creations for hunt seat and grooming kits sponsored by Crystal Cowen in Memory of Jeff Dye for Western.  The top place and overall winner out of hunt seat and western points was Sandy Rose.  Western high point rider Tammy Cranouski. 

There were also a few special awards handed out at the show:  Two special recognition awards were presented for continued support. They were given to Andrea LeManque, the only western rider to attend all western tournaments since the start in 2014, and Stacey Klein, only hunt seat rider to attend all 10 Tournaments; they received flowers and a framed picture.  Midnight Minx Sportsmanship, sponsored by Jackie Annatone and voted on by riders at the show, went to Allyson Villareale.  Also voted on by riders in the show, the “Horse of the Show” went to Centenary University’s Houdini, who went home with a nice gift certificate from Devocoux.

The Alumni Tournament of Champions is an IHSA style horse show for IHSA alumni from around the country. Riders draw horses before competing and are not able to practice on the horse before walking into the show ring. The purpose of the show is to expand opportunities for IHSA Alumni to ride in a finals-type atmosphere, as many only show a few times a year, with busy careers and limited funds. 

More information can be found at www.alumnitoc.com. Full results can be found on www.horseshowing.com, and photos can be found on www.SkylandsPhotography.com.

Keep an eye out for the 2022 Alumni Tournament of Champions. The date and location should be set by early fall. As always, we look forward to what the next tournament will bring: We do know it will bring many memories, laughs, and new friends!