NCAA Equestrian Athletes Stay in Top Form at Vermont Summer Festival

Ashley Foster, pictured aboard Light Edition, maintains the competitive edge necessary for NCAA competition thanks to spending her summers competing at the Vermont Summer Festival.  Foster is a member of the Division I Equestrian Team at Auburn University. Photograph by David Mullinix Photography
Ashley Foster, pictured aboard Light Edition, maintains the competitive edge necessary for NCAA competition thanks to spending her summers competing at the Vermont Summer Festival. Foster is a member of the Division I Equestrian Team at Auburn University. Photograph by David Mullinix Photography

East Dorset, Vermont - Collegiate athletes Kimmy Saul, Ashley Foster, and Sahara Reiz all ride for NCAA Division I equestrian teams during the school year, but in the off-season they stay in top form at the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, VT.  All three girls ride with Patty Foster and Marylisa Leffler at Rolling Acres Show Stables based in Brookeville, MD, and make the annual trip to Vermont to maintain their competitive edge before returning to their respective universities.

For 18-year-old Foster, also of Brookeville, riding horses has been a family affair.  She is Patty Foster’s daughter and Leffler’s niece and has been a life-long equestrian thanks to her family ties to the horse world.  Riding at the collegiate level was a natural progression, and Foster quickly fell in love with Auburn University.

“I only looked at schools with an NCAA team because I knew I wanted to ride in college,” said Foster, who is entering her junior year.  “I love being a part of a team, and I loved Auburn.  The town makes you feel like you’re in a smaller place, and I really liked the team when I went to visit.”

For Foster, being a member of the equestrian team made the transition into college life almost seamless thanks to the large number of familiar faces on campus.  The team has also given her time at Auburn special meaning.

“I like being a part of something at school rather than just attending classes,” Foster said.  “It is a lot of work to keep up with your studies and practices and work-outs; being an athlete can be demanding, but it’s really fun.”

Foster often found herself competing against her cousin, Kimmy Saul, over the past year, but explained that the two have no problem keeping the competition friendly.  Seeing each other at competitions has provided them with the unexpected bonus of family time even when they’re far from home.

Saul, 19, also of Brookeville, MD, has also enjoyed riding alongside her cousin at the Vermont Summer Festival each summer.  While her demanding schedule at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, certainly keeps her busy, showing in Vermont allows her even more time in the saddle.

Saul, who is entering her sophomore year, ordinarily has practice up to four times a week in addition to competitions while at school, but when she’s at the show grounds with Rolling Acres, she enjoys riding multiple horses six days a week.

“I’m really lucky to be able to come to Vermont and show during the off-season,” said Saul.  “I love Vermont because it’s a tradition for us; I’ve only missed one year that I can think of, and it’s nice to get back in a routine and ride more than I do at school.”

She continued, “(My trainers) Patty and Mary can also help me with any bad habits I have picked up.  I’ve ridden with them my whole life, so they know me the best and know how to bring the best out in me.”

While both Saul and Foster always knew they wanted to continue their riding careers in college, Sahara Reiz of Bethesda, MD, only recognized her goal while she was in high school.  During her junior year, she buckled down and focused on her skills, which earned her a scholarship and spot on the team at Baylor University in Baylor, TX.

“I love it,” smiled Reiz, 19.  “When I was in high school, I went to horse shows every weekend, so it’s great to be able to keep competing.  It’s different in college because you’re part of a team.  You have to not only ride for yourself but for everyone else.  The team gave me a great group of friends and it’s really fun.”

Riding for a team has been the biggest adjustment for Reiz, who acknowledged the team aspect does mean added pressure for riders.  Luckily, she’s been able to depend on her trainers at Rolling Acres to help her mental game as much as her riding abilities.

“The mental aspect of the team is a big factor; I talk to Marylisa and Patty about it and they’ve both helped me a lot,” explained Reiz, who is entering her sophomore year.  “They remind me that I am a good rider and help me keep my confidence up.  They also reinforce how far my riding has come, even since joining the team at Baylor.”

She continued, “I get a lot of chances to ride and improve while I’m in Vermont.  Showing here definitely helps get me ready for school again.”

All three girls agreed that the level of competition at the Vermont Summer Festival is comparable to what they encounter at NCAA events, allowing them to continue to compete at the top level of their sport throughout the summer.  Foster, Saul, and Reiz will all compete during week five of the Vermont Summer Festival, running from Tuesday, July 29, through Sunday, August 3.

The Vermont Summer Festival offers a full schedule of hunter, jumper, and equitation competition from July 1 - August 10 at Harold Beebe Farm.  Week five’s $10,000 Open Welcome Stake Series, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, will be held Thursday, July 31, with the week’s feature event, the $30,000 Vermont Summer Special Grand Prix, taking place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 2.  The $5,000 3’3” NEHJA Hunter Derby series will take place on Thursday, July 31.

Competition runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m.  Admission prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday.  On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children.  100% of the gate proceeds benefit area libraries, including Manchester Community Library.

For over 20 years, the Vermont Summer Festival has attracted exhibitors and their families to the Manchester region in southern Vermont.  Known for its wide variety of area amenities including restaurants, outdoor activities, and lots and lots of shopping, Manchester-area businesses warmly welcome horse show competitors to the area each summer.

The Vermont Summer Festival is a proud member event of the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, the Marshall & Sterling League, and the North American League (NAL).  Please e-mail us or visit our website for more information about the Vermont Summer Festival.