Sherman Wins Inaugural USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal Final – East

Paige Sherman. Photo by ESI Photography

By Ashley Swift, US Equestrian Communications Department 

Saugerties, N.Y. – The United States Equestrian Federation/National Collegiate Equestrian Association Junior Hunter Seat Medal Final – East welcomed 18 aspiring collegiate riders on Saturday, September 11, with Paige Sherman (Pawling, N.Y.) coming out on top.

Eighteen-year-old Sherman is a student at Princeton University and rode Clint, Jenna Quarfordt’s 2011 Holsteiner gelding, to the win. The pair has been working together since May and Sherman describes Clint as a significant factor in building up her confidence in the show ring.

“I have a six-month lease on him, basically through the end of finals. I struggled with my confidence throughout the winter and he gave me so much of that confidence back,” said Sherman. “He’s been really, really amazing. We had an amazing summer showing and worked out some remaining kinks at the end of the summer. My trainers were great at helping us through that.”

Sherman had one rail in the first round, but was happy when she qualified for the flat phase. “I wanted to find a nice distance to every jump and to have a round that I was happy with. I had that rail, but I was happy and proud of myself because it was my first time in the Grand Prix ring and I was heading into the flat phase in seventh place,” said Sherman.

Sherman and her trainer, Melissa Hogan, have dedicated a lot of time to working with Clint on the flat, particularly on the lateral movements that are emphasized in the NCEA format. Sherman moved up into fourth place, qualifying for the bracket phase.

“It was shocking to me that I made the top four! I hadn’t walked the second course because I really thought I wasn’t going to make it that far. I was the first one to go into the ring, too, so I didn’t know how the lines rode,” Sherman said, laughing. “It was an experience, but I think, in a way, since I didn’t have any expectations for myself to win, I didn’t feel as nervous. I knew I had to be super present and that ultimately helped me to ride better.”

In the bracket phase of the NCEA format, the riders are tested by riding an unfamiliar horse. Sherman grew up riding many different horses at home and competed on an Interscholastic Equestrian Association team, so the feeling of riding a new horse under the pressure of a final was not new.

“You have to be so focused on the horse that you’re riding. You get a limited time with the horse before you go into the ring. With NCEA, you get four minutes to warm up. Using that limited time to gather as much information as you can is so important. Figure out if your horse is sensitive, what kind of contact they like, what they are like to the base of the jumps, what their lead changes are like,” said Sherman. “Go into the ring and be flexible. Don’t necessarily feel like you have to do 10 strides in a bending line if the horse does have a more forward stride or a smaller stride. You have to be willing to ride every jump as it comes up.”

Sherman recently started at Princeton University and was not able to ride for the three weeks before this Final. “I haven’t been riding as much since I was at college. Clint completely took care of me and it felt like I didn’t have a break at all on Saturday morning. He was so relaxed and I know he is capable of doing every test and answering every question that a course can ask,” said Sherman.

Sherman is looking forward to riding for the equestrian team at Princeton. She has always loved science and plans to major in molecular biology. She is not sure what career path she will follow at the end of her degree, but is considering becoming an equine veterinarian. “I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I know I want to keep horses in my life forever no matter what career I end up pursuing,” said Sherman.

About the USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal Program

The USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal Finals provide an opportunity for aspiring collegiate equestrians to experience the NCEA format of hunter/jumping seat equitation and be recruited to a college/university team. This program is open to all junior members of the USEF and Equestrian Canada.

“I meet with the riders during the riders meeting [before competition] to share information about the class specs and college riding,” said Leah Fiorentino, Executive Director of the NCEA. “There were college coaches on-site to watch the riders [in the Medal Final] and the balance of the coaches were watching the live stream. The riders were quite excited to learn that!”

Competition consists of a two-phase class with an over fences portion and a flat portion. The Finals include an additional bracket-format phase that requires riders to compete on unfamiliar horses in a format similar to that of the NCEA.

US Equestrian is currently accepting rider applications for the 2022 competition year! Junior equestrians interested in trying out the NCEA format before committing to a college or university can learn more about the requirements and application process here.

Q&A with Aspiring Collegiate Rider Grace Sappington

Fifteen-year-old Grace Sappington won the warm-up class at the USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal Final – East with Daloma, First Blue LLC’s 2008 Warmblood mare. The pair are a new partnership with just one month under their belts heading into the Final. She is a sophomore in high school and is researching NCEA teams to find the perfect fit for her riding and academic goals. Sappington’s experiences competing on her school’s Interscholastic Equestrian Association team helped prepare her for the USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal program.

We spoke to Sappington about her plans to be a collegiate rider.

First things first. Tell us about your horse!

I’ve had [Daloma] for only about a month now. She was feeling really good in the morning, really quiet, and I just went in hoping for the best and just to get around. She was great, and she really helped me out. Daloma is super sweet. She always has her ears forward when you go to see her in the barn.

I’m still figuring her out, so this was a really good milestone because the last couple of weeks and the last couple of horse shows was a lot of working out some kinks. It felt great to put it all together here in the Medal Final.

Why did you want to participate in the USEF/NCEA Junior Hunter Seat Medal program?

My trainer is Linda Langmeier and her daughter, McKayla Langmeier, rode in college so this is something I knew I was interested in. And when I learned about this program, I definitely wanted to do it. Riding in college is definitely something I want to do if I get the opportunity. Riding in this class was a great stepping stone and a way to get a feel of the environment and what it would be like to ride in college.

I really like the format of the competition. I like how it is broken out into multiple phases, so you really get to shine in the phase you do well in, like the flat or a horse swap.

What was your favorite part of the Medal Final?

I went into the flat sitting in third but I do pretty well in the flat so I got to show that off and was hoping that would be enough to get me to the top. I do love flatting, and we work on it a lot at home. Sometimes when the jumping doesn’t go as well I know I still might be able to move up a couple places after the flat. So I like being able to show off in that phase, if I can!

What helped prepare you for the Final?

I’ve been riding on my IEA team since sixth grade. I was second in the middle school flat a couple years ago and I really love IEA. A lot of that riding will carry over into these college-riding formats. It has really reassured me that I would be like this kind of college riding experience; I’d encourage everyone to try IEA, no matter what level.

My trainer told me to just go in there and have fun, and that I’ve been working really hard throughout the summer. She really prepared me so well. And she always says to use all the tools in my toolbox so I went in there with her voice in the back of my brain.

Are you interested in looking at NCEA schools after trying out this format?

Of course! I’m hoping to come back to this Final next year and I already started the recruitment process by emailing coaches and filling out questionnaires. I’m still evaluating the options but a few of my top choices right now are Baylor, Auburn, and Texas A&M.

I’m not sure what I want to major in yet, but I really love horses so I want to stay in horses somehow, like with an equine studies program. I’m only a sophomore but I hope to get recruited to one of these schools eventually. I’m crossing my fingers!