Riding to excellence

Published 6:51 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mallory Francis brings home championship ribbon


When Mallory Francis went horse riding this past weekend, it was for more than a joy ride. She was in a serious mode for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s annual Hunt Seat National Finals, which took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That dedication to her riding was especially fruitful, for in the Upper School Team contest, Francis won highest honors both individually and with her team, HRA-Foxtail Farm (Zone 3) from Smithfield.

Mallory Francis riding her own horse, Benjamin, at a different competition. — Submitted Carla Francis

This was her fifth trip to IEA national finals and her second national championship. She also won in 2016 as an individual while an eighth grader. While Francis was a sixth grader in 2014, she had earned second place, and had been ribboned at nationals from 2014 through 2017 and now in 2019; she did not qualify as a sophomore. Francis was also fourth and seventh place in seventh grade (2015) and third and sixth place in 2017 as a ninth grader.

The Southampton High School junior spoke after classes on Tuesday afternoon about the triumphs, the excitement was still in her voice.

“It was a great weekend! I was happy I was able to qualify; not everybody did,” said Francis. “I was confident I would do well and I did, so I was very happy.”

The prizes included ribbons — the whole team was the champion — they also got three necklaces, custom-made shirts, jacket and belts.

One of the challenges for this nationally known event is that riders do not bring their own horses. To even the playing field, the contestants draw for horses that are provided for them. These, added Francis, come from colleges, universities and other barns in the Keystone State.

Gideon, the horse she got to ride was “really sweet” and evidently quite cooperative with her.

The nationals, which is for grades six through 12, will take place next year in Los Angeles, California, in which she hopes to participate. Meanwhile, Francis and Benjamin can ride together in other competitions. She got the animal this past September, and training young horses such as him is a large part of what the 17-year-old loves about equestrianship.

“Overall, I’ve always had young horses. Watching them grow and seeing what I’ve done to create how great they are now. I love animals and the competition,” she said.

That competitive spirit also extends to playing volleyball. Jack Schwolow, coach of the Blackwater Volleyball Club, said Francis helps as an assistant coach for the developmental team and is “a heck of a volleyball player.”

As to what’s the source of that love of horses and contests look no further than Francis’ mother, Carla, who was reared on the family farm in Carrsville.

“I’ve always had horses in my life,” said Carla, who also rode and competed as a child and teen. “Unfortunately, there was no IEA in my time. It’s such a great platform.”

Now, though, she unapologetically describes herself as a “horse show mom.”

That her daughter loves horses as well, “It’s kind of by default.”

Francis later agreed and joked that that love was there from the time she was in the womb.

Though they live in Courtland, the two ride together daily at the family place, Riverdale Farms, in Carrsville. Further training takes place once a month at the Foxtail Farm, where Dana Kiser is coach, and also at Crafty Fox Farm in Virginia Beach, where Sugi Dewan coaches; the two women jointly coach the team together.

“I’ve known Mallory since she was itty-bitty,” said Kiser. “She’s been riding since sixth grade.”

Now her student has been at the IEA nationals five times.

She’s a very experienced national rider. In fact, they called out her name as one of only three people to have been there five times. It’s a pretty elite group.”

Naturally, the coach hopes/intends for the team to “just go back and repeat again next year.” She acknowledged that will be a difficult task.

As for her pupil: “She is probably the team leader at this point,” said Kiser. “When it was down to the last event we said, “Mallory, you have to be at least fourth.’ We put the pressure on her and she rode

better than I’ve ever seen her ride. She got us to the nationals.”

As Carla noted, her daughter “dedicates a lot of time and energy to horses and riding. There have been a lot of cold, hot, rainy and don’t-want-to-ride days. But, the sacrifices have paid off.”

Francis wants to go on riding in college, likely with the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, which refers to a style of riding.

I never want to get away from riding — I want to be able to do that the rest of my life,” she said.

To better ensure that happens, the rider plans to become a veterinarian, dealing more specifically in maintenance of horses.

When I’m riding I feel like I’m at home. I wish more people would ride horses,” said Mallory. “They’re wonderful and make everybody smile.”