Chappelle '03 Reigns as Dressage Champion
by Fred LeBlanc
Chappelle '03 with Graceful.
Amelia Chappelle '03
hasn't stopped to count up the pile of first-, second-,
and third-place ribbons she has won during her four years as a
member of MHC's championship dressage club team. Most of
them are stashed in a box back home in Mercer Island, Washington.
Suffice it to say
that during Chappelle's riding career, she has amassed a
record 106 points under the Interscholastic-Intercollegiate Dressage
Association (IDA) scoring system—retiring from her collegiate
career sixty points ahead of her nearest competitor. Given her
talent, and the fact that she competed for all four of her years
at Mount Holyoke, it's a record that may stand for some
time. "I don't know if anyone's ever going to
catch her," says Crystal Taylor, Northeast regional representative
for the IDA. Chappelle's most recent ribbon, a first-place
finish in first-level individual competition, came in late April
at the 2003 Intercollegiate-Interscholastic Dressage Association
(IDA) Nationals, at which the MHC team defended its national championship.
What might make her performance seem even more remarkable is the
fact that neither Chappelle nor either of her parents has ever
owned a horse. Yet what might seem to be a drawback has been turned
into an advantage, thanks to the skills she has developed and
the particular nature of IDA competition.
Under IDA rules, competitors do not ride their own horses. Rather,
they ride those supplied by the host institution, with horse and
rider matched up by luck of the draw. It's an approach that
has eased entry into the sport for many who cannot afford horse
ownership, and has fueled the tremendous growth that dressage
is experiencing. Just ten minutes of practice are allowed before
competition begins. "You just have to figure each other
out as fast as you can," Chappelle says.
Her desire to get time in the saddle has given Chappelle plenty
of experience at figuring out new horses. Her opportunities to
ride before arriving at MHC came primarily through working in
stables and caring for other riders' horses. "I worked
hard at it—I cleaned a lot of stalls," she says. Never
one to turn up her nose at a horse, she would ride whatever horse
she was offered, whenever she could.
It gave her experience that stood her in good stead in dressage,
a sport that relies on an exceptional degree of communication
between horse and rider. Dressage, which takes its name from the
French word for "training," has been likened to figure
skating and ballet. Points are awarded for the execution of precision
movements by a horse in response to barely perceptible signals
from its rider. Dressage is considered "classical training,"
because it uses gymnastic exercises—a series of movements
and figures—that have been studied and developed for centuries.
Because few horses used in competition are dedicated dressage
horses, "you have to learn how far you can push the horse
within its comfort limits," Chappelle says. It's a
mark of her ability to do this that Chappelle has taken first
place riding the same horse that was ridden to a last-place finish
by another rider in the same competition.
During her sophomore year, Chappelle was social captain; for her
junior and senior years, she was chosen as captain. "She
has been the rock of the team all four years she's been
here," says Becky Schurink, the team's coach. "She
has been a fabulous role model for the other riders to emulate."
"It's been such a huge part of my Mount Holyoke experience,"
Chappelle says. "Most of the people on the team are my best
friends," she adds. "My experience wouldn't
have been what it was without the other team members and Becky.
It's just been a great experience all around."
Chappelle will receive her degree in neuroscience and behavior
at commencement May 25, and will then head for Washington, D.C.,
intending to work while preparing for graduate school. She hopes
to have a career as a genetic counselor, a field that builds on
her interests in biology and psychology. But work and graduate
school aren't the only items on her agenda. "The first
thing I'm going to do when I go down to D.C.," she
says, "is find a barn to ride at."