Sweet Briar rider will represent team USA in World Finals

By Rachel Lucas - Anchor / Reporter
Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved

AMHERST CO. (WSLS 10) - Sweet Briar College sophomore Makayla Benjamin will get the chance to experience competing on an international level as she rides for the United States at the AIEC-SRNC World Finals.

Makayla, an engineering major and business minor from Leesburg, will be one of three riders representing Team USA in Germany.

Makayla and her family will leave the day after Christmas.  The competition is from December  29 to January 1, 2016. In total, 15 countries will compete during the three-day competition.

"My mom actually was part of this world way before I was born, so I was riding in the womb," Makayla said.

She has been in the saddle since she was only two weeks old.

"This is what I love most," Makayla said as she finished her riding lesson Friday while stroking the long face of one of her favorite horses, Dorado.

She has spent years of practicing everyday, sometimes twice a day. It's that love of riding that brought her here to Sweet Briar, a school that's historically been known for a prestigious riding program.

After almost losing the program this earlier this year when the school administration voted to shut Sweet Briar down, Makayla say's earning a spot on team u-s-a now means more than ever.

"It says that it has prevailed almost through anything...we've come back from closing and we are still kicking strong," Makayla said.

Lizzie Fich is Makyala's coach.

"It really has been an emotional year," Fich said. "Obviously and we have worked even harder to try to make up for everything from last year and to prove that we really should be here."

She's thrilled to see one of her rider's compete on an international stage.

"It feels really good. We are so proud of her. I think she is an amazing rider. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than she does," Fich said.

Going head to head against 14 other countries, it's the first time a rider at Sweet Briar has been selected to compete in the world finals.

For longtime Executive Director Mimi Wroten, one of the best parts about it is that Makayla is only a sophomore.

"We know that we will have her for two more years and be able to sort of build on her success," Wroten said.

Despite the honor, and the high stakes of being a world champion, Makayla remains humbled, and remembers it's all for the love the sport

"I just hope that I can prevail and represent Sweet Briar and America well," Makayla said.

Selection for the team is based on how well riders have done at previous Student Rider Nations Cup competitions during the year. During the summer, Benjamin traveled to Sweden for a competition in hopes that it would earn her a spot on Team USA for the world finals.

The competition is broken into four stages, with the first stage having every rider competing in both dressage and show jumping. Then the field is cut down to 12 riders for another round of dressage and show jumping on different horses. The finals on New Year's Eve consist of the top two riders competing head-to-head on the same two horses in front of the judges.   

Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved