Sweet Briar College’s Makayla Benjamin wins Cacchione Cup at IHSA Nationals

makayla benjamin
Makayla Benjamin, a senior at Sweet Briar College, won the 2018 USEF/Cachionne Cup.

Sweet Briar College is back on top.

In 2015, college officials shocked alumni and students alike when they announced the school, including its esteemed equestrian program, would close. Alumnae saved their beloved school, and the college’s tradition of riding excellence was saved with it.

On Saturday, May 5, 2018, Makayla Benjamin, a senior, became the riding program’s first winner of the Cacchione Cup at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The USEF/Cacchione Cup is awarded to the National Individual Hunter Seat High Point Rider.

Benjamin, of Leesburg, Virginia, is one of 24 riders from across the nation who qualified to compete for the Cacchione Cup, with three riders coming from each of the eight regions across the nation.

The last Vixen to compete at nationals in the USEF/Cacchione Cup was Olivia Smith in 2014. Smith placed ninth overall. Benjamin joins Smith and Jodie Weber as Sweet Briar riders to have competed for the USEF/Cacchione Cup since 2006. Weber finished fourth in 2006, while Smith finished 33rd in 2013 and ninth in 2014.

Past Cacchione Cup winners are:

2017: Katherine Steiner – Centenary University
2016: Chase Boggio, Tufts University
2015: Elizabeth Hay, College of Charleston-South Carolina
2014: Alexandra Carleton, University of Vermont
2013: Cori Reich, Centenary College
2012: Kels Bonham, Savannah College of Art and Design
2011: Marissa Cohen, Centenary College
2010: Lindsay Sceats, Mount Holyoke College
2009: Lindsay Clark, Centenary College
2008: James Fairclough II, Drew University
2007: Whitney Roper, University of Virginia
2005: Ashley Woodhouse, Skidmore College
2004: Tara Brothers, University of South Carolina
2003: John Pigott, University of Vermont
2002: Laena Romond, Mount Holyoke College
2001: Amanda Forte, Brown University
2000: Hally Philips, Tufts University
1999: Lindsay Phibbs, Skidmore College
1998: Jennie Chesis, Cazenovia College
1997: Kelly Anne Taylor, Centenary College
1996: Kara Treiber, University of Findlay
1995: Kim Peters, Lake Erie College
1994: Daniel Geitner Sainy, Andrews Presbyterian College
1993: Parris Cozart, Hollins College
1992: Christine Kilpatrick, University of Virginia
1991: Kelly Mullen, SUNY Stony Brook
1990: Claudia Barth, Mount Holyoke College
1989: Charlotte Sprague, Hollins College
1988: Kelly Mullen, SUNY Stony Brook
1987: Heidi Bossow, Hollins College
1986: Peter Wylde, Tufts University
1985: Heidi Bossow, Hollins College
1984: Beezie Patton, Southern Seminary College
1983: CeCe Williamson, University of Virginia
1982: CeCe Williamson, University of Virginia
1981: CeCe Williamson, University of Virginia
1980: Ann Sipperly, SUNY Stony Brook
1979: Mary Buckley, Colby Sawyer College
1978: Luanne Richards, Penn State University
1977: Pam Carson, Adelphi University
1976: Suzie Horrigan, Colby Sawyer College
1975: Jean Oberg, SUNY Stony Brook
1974: Mary Webster, Bennett College
1973: Mark Weissbecker, University of Massachusetts
1972: Duncan Peters, University of Connecticut

Related stories:

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Sweet Briar College equestrian competing in Germany at World Finals
Sweet Briar College rider topped league in show jumping at world finals
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Sweet Briar College equestrian competing in Germany at World Finals

Makayla Benjamin is a sophomore at Sweet Briar College.
Photo via Sweet Briar College

Makayla Benjamin, a member of the equestrian team at Sweet Briar College, won  the show jumping portion of the World University Equestrian Federation World Finals (AIEC-SRNC) in Marburg-Dagobertshausen, Germany. She was 3rd overall and Team USA was 5th overall.

Benjamin, a sophomore majoring in engineering from Leesburg, Virginia, is one of three riders representing the United States in Germany from Dec. 29 to Jan. 1. Fifteen countries are participating in the three-day competition.

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 Years Eve consist of the top two riders competing on the same two horses.

“I am extremely proud of Makayla and thrilled that she has been given this opportunity,” said Sweet Briar Riding coach Mimi Wroten, director of riding at Sweet Briar. “Makayla is a dedicated, hard working, and talented rider whose focus, attention to detail, and determination will take her far in this competition.”

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

And thanks to connections she has made through the AIEC program, Benjamin is going to be spending two weeks working in Holland after the competition.”It’s just such a great community to be a part of and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet so many people from around the world that all have a common goal,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin says that AIEC family is a very supportive group and she has felt welcome since her first competition. She is also very thankful for how supportive Sweet Briar has been in all her endeavors and pushing her to be better everyday.

Other media reports of this story:

Sweet Briar equestrian director moving to Lynchburg College

Sweet Briar College may be closing in August, but it’s riding tradition will stay in central Virginia. Sweet Briar equestrian director Merrilee “Mimi” Wroten will join Lynchburg College as director of riding as the college works to expand its equestrian program. Wroten has been head of the acclaimed program at Sweet Briar since 2011 and before that served as associate director since 1999. She will remain at Sweet Briar until the school closes in August.

“It became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition was founded upon,” Wroten said in a Lynchburg College news release on the changes.

Mimi is a USEF “R” judge and holds the ANRC top rider rating. She has judged shows from Georgia to New York. Wroten has coached several award-winning teams, including an individual national champion and national reserve champion in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association; multiple Old Dominion Athletic Conference champion and reserve champion teams; and several American National Riding Committee champion and reserve champion teams.

Lynchburg College is finalizing an agreement with Thistledown Farm to host its equestrian program.

See the news release here.

Wroten posted this message on Sweet Briar’s facebook page March 26.

“Dear Friends,
As we all process our way through the shock of the announcement about our beloved Sweet Briar and move toward addressing the uncertainty of the future, each of us has tried to find a path forward for the ideals and culture that have made Sweet Briar riding so special. It was this pursuit of a way forward that led me to take a call from Lynchburg College Athletics Director Jon Waters. During the call and throughout numerous follow up conversations as Jon shared the Lynchburg vision and hope for expansion of their existing riding program, it became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and to preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition has been founded upon. It is for these reasons that I have accepted the position as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College. I will finish out the semester and my obligations with Sweet Briar College before stepping into my new role as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College.

As you can imagine, this decision did not come without a tremendous amount of soul searching and research about the Lynchburg leadership and it’s commitment to excellence. As someone who has spent more than half my life in service to the students, horses and community of Sweet Briar, I fully understand how the program has impacted lives for generations. However, with the path that has been laid out for the college, the only prudent course at this time is to move forward with this new endeavor and attempt to maintain as much continuity with staff, horses and instruction as possible.

While many of the details of the Lynchburg College riding program future are still evolving, the program is very excited about the opportunity to work out of Thistledown Farm in Lynchburg, Virginia. We will work rapidly to develop this facility into a collegiate riding facility with 22 stalls, 4 large fields, 2 large paddocks, 1 small ring, and we will enlarge & cover a ring that will be approximately 120’ x 220’. Lynchburg College is working to acquire approximately 12-15 of the SBC horses to assure the standards of excellence that we have come to expect. Additional resources will be developed as demand dictates.

I am very confident that Jon Waters, Athletic Director and the institutional leadership at Lynchburg understand and respect how special the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center is to the equine world. In light of this, they have assured me that in the event that Sweet Briar College is open to students and operating a riding program in the Fall of 2015, I would be free to return to lead the Sweet Briar College program with the probability of Lynchburg riders becoming a part of the Rogers Riding Center community.

To my fellow alums and to all of those who have been touched by the greatness of the Sweet Briar riding program, I hope that you will see this as a unique opportunity to continue to serve the central Virginia area and the horse world with the same spirit and ideals that made our program so unique.

I appreciate all that you have done for the Sweet Briar College Riding Program and myself.

Sincerely,
Mimi Wroten”