Hanna Myrdahl ’17, the first rider Washington College has sent to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s National Championships in over a decade, finished 12th out of 38 riders from around the country competing for the Cacchione Cup. It was a strong showing by the freshman rider, who finished only half a point out of the top 10 at the event last weekend in Harrisburg, Pa.
“It was a lot of fun, a really cool experience to be there,” says Myrdahl, who finished the season as the high-point rider in the open class—the IHSA’s top division—in the College’s highly competitive region, which encompasses southeastern Pennsylvania, the Eastern Shore, and part of New Jersey. That earned her an automatic shot to compete for the Cacchione Cup at the Nationals, which included classes on the flat as well as over fences.
“She’s a very solid, competitive rider,” says Chris Bigelow, Washington’s coach. “It’s highly unusual that a freshman qualifies for the Cacchione Cup.” Bigelow says that it was “really cool to hear Washington College announced three times in the arena when they recognized the Cacchione Cup riders and did a small parade of teams. It was a very tight competition and Hanna rode very well.”
Myrdahl says she knew she was among only a few freshmen competing. “Everyone else was wishing me good luck, and there was a lot of good sportsmanship, and I really appreciated that since it was my first time at Nationals.”
Teams and individuals compete at the Nationals. WC’s team this season tied for fifth in its region, so it did not compete in Harrisburg. But Myrdahl’s consistent top finishes in the open class meant she could compete as an individual rider representing Washington College in the event named after Bob Cacchione, who helped develop what would become the IHSA in the late 1960s.
Myrdahl, who is studying political science and anthropology but hasn’t declared her major yet, has been riding since she was 5 years old. From her home in southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up riding, she attended boarding school in Sweden during high school. She learned about Washington College through a colleague of her father; after visiting last spring as a high school senior, she loved it and applied. She didn’t know the College had a riding team until she arrived last fall.
“When I found out there was a team, I wanted to join,” she says. She will take over co-captain duties this fall with Cristin LaLone ’17, after current captain Amanda Kloetzli ’14 graduates this spring.
Myrdahl didn’t come to WC alone; she brought her Belgian warmblood, named Vasco, with her and boards him nearby. She has owned and ridden him competitively since she was 12. “I wouldn’t be able to leave him for anything,” she says. “We have been through so much together.”
During IHSA competition, though, Myrdahl rides whatever horse she draws, just like all the other riders. Under IHSA rules, participating schools provide horses for their students and visiting teams when they sponsor a show. Riders draw mounts before classes, preventing any one rider from having a particular advantage over another and placing the emphasis on riding skill and adaptability. The system levels the playing field and provides opportunities for students who don’t have a lot of money to participate in what is a notoriously expensive sport.
More than 9,000 riders representing 400 colleges in 45 states and Canada compete in the IHSA. WC has only once before sent a rider to the Nationals; in 2002, the team’s first year of competition, Annette Bangert ’03 placed fourth in the equitation division.