Western riders host IHSA Region 4 Championships; Dantona advances to National Semi-Finals
Liberty University senior Western equestrian rider Faith Dantona swept the Open Horsemanship and Open Reining disciplines of Sunday’s Region 4 Championships at the Liberty Equestrian Center, qualifying for the March 19-20 IHSA Western National Semi-Finals at West Virginia University.
“Once you are in the Open division, every single rider is an exceptional rider, so to come out of the region is a pretty big deal,” Lady Flames first-year Head Coach Emily Cavender said. “To end the senior year of her collegiate career as a regional champion in two events is really awesome.”
Cavender said hosting Sunday’s event gave Dantona a bit of an advantage over her opponents, including runner-up Sarah Beth Felker from Region 4 regular-season champion St. Andrews (N.C.) University, the other National Semi-Final qualifier.
“For the reining event, Faith drew a home horse that Liberty owns, so she knew how to ride it better than (Felker), who rode the same horse. For Horsemanship, she drew a horse from Virginia Tech that was brought in, so she had to prove herself on a horse she’d never been on and still came out victorious.”
On Saturday, Liberty hosted the final Region 4 regular-season show and secured its second-place team finish in the standings.
“The team had some really nice rides on Saturday and we were very happy and excited to end up as the Reserve High Point Team of the Year,” Cavender said. “It is hard to host and show the whole time. It’s a lot of moving pieces and parts, and I was very pleased with how the team did.”
Dantona won the Open Reining class and came in third in Open Horsemanship while junior Virginia Barnett took third in Ranch Riding, freshman Abigail Rice finished first and sophomore Sarah Gagnon second in Rookie B Horsemanship.
The Lady Flames totaled 201 points for the season to place second to St. Andrew’s (270) and ahead of Clemson (166), Virginia Tech (155), and North Carolina State (153).
“We tied St. Andrews for High Point Team honors at one of their horse shows in the fall,” Cavender said. “Their coach, Carla Wennberg, is phenomenal. She is a judge herself and has been a staple in the industry for a long time so it’s an honor to come in second to them. We’ll get them one of these years.”
She is eager to see how Dantona performs at next weekend’s National Semi-Finals, which includes a total of 16 riders from Zones 1-4, 6, and 8). With a top-four finish at WVU’s JW Ruby Research Farm in Reedsville, W.Va., she will advance to the May 5-8 IHSA National Championships in Harrisburg, Pa.
“There will be six different zones represented, including two areas from Zone 6,” Cavendar said. “Texas Tech is hosting one of the other (National) Semi-Finals and Blackhawk (Ill.) College is hosting the other and I think the competition is going to be fierce at all three. Once you get to the Semi-Finals, every single rider in her division is an exceptional rider.”
She believes Dantona stands as good a chance as any of the other riders to qualify for nationals.
“She’s a beautiful rider and she’s proven herself multiple times this year,” Cavender said. “She was already a very strong horsemanship rider when she came to Liberty, and I have seen a lot of development and growth with her reining, … in understanding what horses need from her as a rider.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media