Dana Hall Equestrian takes on WEF in Florida

Every year, Dana Hall riders make their way to Florida to compete in the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) circuit for six weeks. This year’s experience was extremely different, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the 12 riders and eight horses who traveled down. According to Rachael Chandley ‘21, “WEF this year was super fun, being able to stay put in Florida for the whole six weeks.”

The Dana Hall Equestrian Center has been sending students and riders to Florida to compete for four years now. In a normal school year, riders have to tightly schedule travels to Florida, while balancing school attendance and school work. On Thursday nights riders would hop on a plane, not attend school on Friday, and compete until Sunday, then fly back home just in time for school Monday morning. The horses would stay put at the showgrounds, living in Florida for the entire time of the WEF. 

This school year has been unique. Along with the horses living in Florida for the six weeks, this time, the riders and coaches were able to do the same. All 12 riders and most of their parents made accommodations to buckle down in the warm weather to live in Florida for the entire six weeks because of the dangers of traveling due to COVID-19. Living in Florida for the span of the circuit lowered the riders’ chances of getting sick from traveling on planes every week. Flying down in February, most families rented houses or stayed with relatives nearby to make this work. With online school Zooming options, the riders could complete their classes and work virtually in Florida before returning back to school after March break. 

Balancing the work and riding schedule was difficult, according to Rachael, who was a “working student” during the show. A working student is one who grooms the horses and takes care of barn tasks on top of riding, showing, and completing her school work. “The difficulties for me were because I was a working student and I was at the barn 24/7. There was terrible [WiFi] service so it was hard to actually balance school and work, but I would say once I figured out where to get service it became a lot easier.” 

Arriving back home on March 23, the riders and their horses brought back with them top ribbons from the six weeks at the show. Each weekend, from Friday to Sunday, most riders competed in different events across the showgrounds. Dana Hall trains Hunter riders, Equitation riders, and Jumper riders, three different equestrian styles. The three trainers, Sarah Summers, Carly Corbacho, and Lia Chaffee, helped the Dana riders receive top awards. Amelia Thames ‘24 was awarded many top ribbons: a few first place ribbons in her 3’ Older Hunter Class and many second place finishes in additional Hunter classes. Rachael continued her successes in the 1.20 meter Jumper classes, receiving many blue ribbons for clear rounds. Collectively, the riders were pleased with their results and experience at WEF.

The Dana Hall Equestrian Center program has many participants, and the girls who travel to show at WEF are just a portion of them. Girls who attend or are alumnae of Dana Hall are given the opportunity to board their horse at the barn. The riders that traveled to Florida are the girls who own or lease their horses, and show them at many competitions during the year. Dana also offers a team called Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA). This team is very inclusive, including girls of all ages and skill levels who attend Dana Hall. This is a league of other barns and schools who offer equestrian, that compete against each other’s teams. The show they attend for IEA determines the horses they ride. This team rides during the fall sports season. 

Photo source: SportFot

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