May 7, 2006 - The Mount Holyoke College riding team captured first place out of 18 teams at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championship, held in Harrrisburg, Pennsylvania from May 4-7. This is MHC's second national title in six years, and third in school history (the Lyons previously won the championship in 1986 and 2000). The team dedicated the win to Alyssa Stevens, a fan of the MHC riding program who recently lost her battle with cancer at the age of 15.
The competition was close this year and the championship came down to the wire, as MHC and Stanford University were tied for second place (18 points) while Penn State held a narrow lead (22 points) going into the final event. Mount Holyoke senior Kyla Makhloghi (Putney, Vt.) overcame the pressure and placed second in the open fences class to help MHC pull ahead with a final total of 23 points. Penn State and Stanford finished tied for second place with 22 points each. The Lyons never led until this last class of the tournament, and their win was a true team effort, as they were the only team to earn points in six out of eight classes.
In addition to Makhloghi's second place performance in open fences, she also placed fourth in the open flat class. Other point winners for MHC in the team competition were senior Sara Royston (Portland, Ore.) in walk-trot-canter (second place), first-year Natasha Rabinowitz (Westport, Conn.) in intermediate fences (third place), junior Kelly Reardon (Waltham, Mass.) in walk-trot (fourth place), and senior Melissa Rabbitt (Falls Village, Conn.) in novice flat (fourth place).
Several Mount Holyoke riders also qualified to compete in individual competition at nationals based on their performance throughout the year. Junior Danielle Johnson (Bolton, Mass.) walked away as the National Walk-Trot Champion, while junior Nathalie Cooper (Newport, R.I.) earned Reserve Champion honors in open flat. Cooper also placed eighth out of 30 riders in the Cacchione Class, a contest among top collegiate riders who finished the year as the leading point-scorer in their region. Junior Christine Gunn (Grosse Pointe, Mich.) placed eight in the individual novice fences class.
Mount Holyoke has competed at nationals in eight of the last ten years. National Reserve Champions of the 2005 IHSA Championship, the Lyons were determined to qualify for nationals again this year. The team finished the spring season as the leading point-scorer in the region for the tenth straight year, and won the Regional Championship on April 1 and the Zone Finals on April 8 to earn another shot at the national title.