An equestrian first: Dana Hall hosts the AEL nationals

The Athletic Equestrian League (AEL), is an organization of equestrian athletes that compete regionally and nationally, founded in 2010 by horsewoman Sally Batton. Mount Holyoke College has hosted nationals for the past 12 years; this year, on May 11th and 12th, Dana Hall School hosted the national competition, and came out as Reserve National Champions.

Regional competitions take place from August to April, and riders must compete in four competitions to qualify for nationals. No amount of points is required to qualify for a national competition, differentiating AEL from other leagues. 

Ms. Batton suggested that Dana Hall host the event because of the “great facilities, really nice campus, and two indoor arenas.” Dana’s facilities also allowed for a college fair to be held at nationals for the first time, “which was very conveniently in shipley.” Mount Holyoke, Lake Erie, and Skidmore were just some of the colleges present to advertise their strong equestrian programs.

Since AEL is a rather new organization, teams range from across New England and the Mid Atlantic, rather than the entire country. “We had people come from all over, as far as Virginia, and Long Island, New York. Some teams came from locally as well.” Says Dana Hall AEL coach Christine Twohig. During this weekend, traveling teams and horses had to navigate accommodations. Ms. Twohig mentioned that most horse providers traveled back and forth each day, and some kept their horses either at Dana or barns nearby.

A lot of preparation goes into hosting a show with over 200 riders competing. Both the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) and AEL teams at Dana helped run the event. Dani Corkill, IEA coach, says that both teams “Continue to grow in size and it’s wonderful to see so much crossover between the two. Everyone involved in organizing and running this show was thrilled to support our AEL team to their reserve national champion title.” 

This two day event requires teammates to “Get all the horses ready and prepared, along with helping the kids and making sure they’re staying on task,” said Ms. Twohig. Both teams were involved with “Cleaning around our buildings, hanging signs for spectators, bathing horses, cleaning tack, and a number of other chores and errands,” said Ms. Corkill. Horse shows are long days, but Ms. Twohig said that the team “Had high spirits throughout the whole season, and everyone kept it up through the whole weekend.” Ms. Corkill added that “Everyone came together and put on a truly impressive show.” Ms. Batton mentioned that Dana’s experience hosting AEL shows before helped the event run smoothly. “They [the coaches] kept telling me, we’ve done this before.”

It’s not just the teammates who help prepare and run the show. Coaches also have to find horses to lease, which cost about 250-300 dollars per horse, per day, in addition to creating the show schedule and making sure class sizes are appropriate in relation to the size of their corresponding show ring. Ms. Corkill said that “We also had a great deal of help from parents and maintenance staff.” The equestrian coaches and staff at Dana, along with AEL faculty members, started thinking about nationals “About it two months in advance, like really thinking about it. We’ve been jotting down ideas since the beginning of the school year,” according to Ms. Twohig.

Ms. Batton said it’s ultimately up to Sarah Summers, director of the equestrian center, if Dana Hall hosts AEL nationals again. Ms. Corkill thinks that “If we were to host AEL Nationals again, I imagine it would run even smoother with all of our experience gained this year.”

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