Caitlyn Francis signs on with champs

Caitlyn Francis leads Cal from the barn to the ring at Pond View Farm. — File photo by Susan Safford

Caitlyn Francis of Oak Bluffs, a senior at MVRHS, has recently signed a letter of intent and received a partial scholarship to ride with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship equestrian team at the University of Georgia next fall. Two weeks ago the UGA Bulldogs narrowly defeated Texas A&M to win the 2010 Varsity Equestrian National Championships, held at the Heart o’ Texas Fair Complex in Waco, Texas. The 2010 championship is Georgia’s fifth national title in eight years and third in succession.

As a part of her college search, Ms. Francis sent a letter of interest and a video of herself in action to UGA. She was recruited for the equestrian team by assistant coach Logan Fiorentino. In a visit to the college last winter, Ms. Francis was impressed by the equestrian complex in Bishop, Ga., the head coach, Megan Boenig, and the riders on the team. UGA was her first choice.

The daughter of Alexas and Eric Wildanger of Oak Bluffs, Ms. Francis began riding at Pond View Farm in West Tisbury when she was about 10 years old. Her coaches are Sarah Doyle and Tracey Olsen.

Ms. Francis told The Times that her riding commitment at UGA will require nearly 30 hours per week, including three afternoons a week in the saddle and four afternoons in the gym. The equestrian schedule includes 14 intercollegiate head-to-head competitions between September and March as well as, she hopes, the southern and national championship shows.

A college equestrian team has about two dozen riders, but only eight women from each college ride in each competition — four on the flat and four over jumps. The host college provides all the mounts for both teams, and horses are drawn by lot. The riders’ performances are graded by judges, as in gymnastics, figure skating, or diving. Riders for each competition are chosen by the coaches, based on performance in practice during the week preceding the show.

At UGA, Ms. Francis will major in Environmental Science, one of her academic strengths. She won MVRHS science fair awards in 2008 and 2009. However, she hopes to fashion a career in horsemanship as a professional rider and trainer on the national horse show circuit.