Makayla Benjamin of Leesburg, a sophomore engineering major at Sweet Briar College, has won the Silver League show jumping competition in the AIEC Student Riding Nations Cup World Finals in Germany. Benjamin’s combined scores in dressage and show jumping placed her third overall. The U.S. team finished in fifth place in the league.
The World University Equestrian Federation — known by its French abbreviation AIEC — hosted the competition Dec. 29-31. Benjamin rode in a qualifying show in Sweden earlier this year to earn a spot on the U.S. team, along with two other riders. The finals are divided into two sections. Teams with previous wins during the year compete in the Gold League, according to Benjamin, who was reached Thursday by the Lynchburg News & Advance.
Before Benjamin departed for Germany, Sweet Briar riding director Mimi Wroten predicted she would go far in the competition, citing her dedication and talent. Wroten also noted that Benjamin is focused and pays attention to the details.
Those observations were borne out in the results, as well as the work habits Benjamin has cultivated since she was very young. She puts in three to four hours for her sport nearly every day, she says. Daily lessons during the fall semester included being at the barn by 7 a.m. on some days of the week for sessions with Sweet Briar IHSA coach Lizzie Fisch; other days, she rode in the afternoons. She takes Sundays off — unless Sweet Briar is competing in a show.
The hard work had already paid off, providing the eventual pathway to Germany. A year ago, she was exercising horses as a volunteer at the AIEC-SRNC World Finals in Florida and caught the attention of Team USA officials. She was invited to try for a spot on the team and found her opportunity to qualify at the show in Sweden.
Now, she is in the record books as a collegiate world champion show jumper.
And what’s that like?
“I feel amazing!!!” Benjamin wrote late Thursday. “I’m on cloud nine!”
There were plenty of indications early on the third and last day of competition that she would finish well, but her pragmatic side kept her emotions in check.
“I had competed in the show jumping in the morning with two other finalists. One of the finalists was clear but a little slow and the other one had had four faults, so I had known since this morning that I was at least the top two,” Benjamin recounted.
“As the day went on, everyone was congratulating me and telling me I had won, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up before I absolutely knew, so I had to wait for the awards ceremony at the end of the day.”
Ultimately, she stood in the ring, an American flag draped across her shoulders — moments caught on camera and posted to the Sweet Briar Riding Facebook page with another observation: “She looks as good in red, white and blue as she does in pink and green.”
For additional coverage: