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Amelia Chappelle '03 Reigns as Dressage Champion

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 23 , 2003

Amelia Chappelle '03 Reigns as Dressage Champion

Photo by Fred LeBlanc

Amelia 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."


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