WATSONVILLE—A team of local youth equestrians brought some national acclaim back to the Central Coast after putting on a strong performance nearly 3,000 miles away from home.
The Belmont Training Stables team, based out of Monte Vista Christian School, placed third at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association National finals in Harrisburg, Pa. on April 28 – May 1.
Bella Primavera, a senior at MVC and Belmont team captain, won the Varsity Open Over Fences class, which helped them earn third place against nearly 1,500 IEA teams that competed across the United States.
“I tell people it’s like figure skating,” she said. “You have to make it look effortless but it’s also a show.”
Aptos High freshman Maya Rosa placed third place in her JV Over Fence class.
MVC junior Karly Jackson placed sixth in the individual varsity intermediate equitation class, and fellow sophomore teammate Carmen Gonzalez placed seventh in her Open flats class.
“It’s pretty difficult because you never really know what kind of horse you could get,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just kind of how you handle the situation, if you have a difficult horse.”
In a sport where hundred thousand dollar horses can play a large role in competition, the IEA offers students in grades fourth to 12th competitions on an even playing field.
IEA tournaments provide horses that are randomly assigned to riders making the sport more accessible to all types of students.
“It kind of takes the finances out of the sport, that’s what makes it so cool,” Primavera said.
Behind the success is head coach Cassie Belmont, who has been a professional trainer working with horses and riders for more than 30 years.
Fifteen years ago she leased five acres from MVC and started Belmont Training Stables.
There she has a house, stables and training grounds where she runs her horse training business, youth teams and summer camps. Belmont also teaches horsemanship PE classes to students at MVC.
Setup in the foothills of Watsonville, Belmont has created one of the most competitive youth equestrian programs in California.
The teams are made up of students from various schools in the area. Belmont said she’s had either one or both of her middle and high school teams claim state championships every year since starting her IEA team.
In the past 15 years, she’s also brought teams to compete at the national tournament every year.
To give perspective, Belmont compared her program to Stanford University’s youth team, a team that Belmont Stables has to contend with often in IEA competition.
“[Stanford] is a very wealthy area and their facilities are like, I mean it’s incredible,” Belmont said. “They have three covered arenas and we don’t have any, we’re just Watsonville.”
Primavera plans to continue her riding career in the fall at the University of South Carolina after she was offered an NCAA Division-I equestrian scholarship.
“I was about eight years old, I came to the summer camp and kind of fell in love,” Primavera said of one of her first experiences riding a horse at Belmont stables.
Primavera talked about having a conjoined language with the horse that has no words, taking the sport to another level.
“You have to communicate with [the horse] through feelings, care, love and practice,” Primavera said. “You both have to have a trust for each other that is as strong as the bond you would have with another person.”
Belmont riders can compete in other events with their own horses, but the random horse selections of IEA competitions require a specific skill set to compete in.
“You need to be adaptable, you need to be someone who is gentle and someone your horse likes but you can still get the job done,” Primavera said. “You need to quickly communicate with a horse you’ve never ridden before and just get on and compete.”
Gonzalez said she wants to continue riding into college if she’s able to.
“Bella [Primavera] got a scholarship to go to college, and that seems like the path I want to follow,” Gonzalez said.
While the IEA season starts with the school year, Cassie said the team is busy training year round. They also compete on their own horses in circuit horse shows throughout the summer.
Belmont said the success of her program all comes down to the work the students put in.
“You know they’ve just grown up doing this, so they’re here, they work really hard. It’s like the football team, they practice every day,” Belmont said. “They are really motivated, we have a great team and it’s a lot of fun.”