Initially, Ellicott City, Md., native Cary Hundley didn't want to attend Goucher College despite its strong equestrian program.
Now, after a stellar four-year collegiate riding career, Goucher will continue to be Hundley's home for the foreseeable future, as she will take over as the school's stable manager.
"There were times, even during my freshman year, that I wasn't sure if it really was the place for me," Hundley said. "But it worked out great, and now I've applied for a job here and am going to be working at the stable on campus full time."
Originally, Hundley, who attended Marriotts Ridge High School, was hoping to enroll at a school that was fairly close to home but out of state -- maybe in Pennsylvania or Virginia. But after visiting the campus in Towson, Md., and talking to a member of the Gophers' equestrian team, Hundley said the campus just felt right.
Hundley moves on to her post-college career after a spectacular senior season. At one point during the season, she finished first in the open flat competition in seven straight shows. Open flat is a course without any jumping.
She went on to capture regional championships in open flat and open fences (jumping competition) before leading the team to a third-place finish at the Zone IV Championships. She finished second in the Cacchione Class at the show, qualifying her for the premier Cacchione Class at the National Championships in Harrisburg, Pa., May 7.
"I had a really good competition at zones to qualify," Hundley said. "It was a little weird, though. I was happy with my performance, but the team didn't qualify for nationals for the first time in a few years. It was my goal to get to nationals, but no one was going with me, so it was hard."
Only 24 riders qualify for the Cacchione Cup. The competition consists of three phases -- one with fences, one with no fences and one that is judges' choice and can be anything. The judges invited 10 riders, including Hundley, back for the third phase, which ended up being a jumping course.
While Hundley finished eighth overall, she finished in first in the flat phase -- the first rider in Goucher history to take the top spot.
"The phase I won was something I had worked really hard on with the coaches," Hundley said. "They put so much time and work into me and helping me perfect that course. As I was performing there were tears because I knew that I was doing well. It was a great way to finish my career. I just have so much gratitude to them for doing all that they did to get me there."
Jen Smith, director and head coach of the Goucher program, was not surprised by Hundley's showing; she also placed second at the T. McDonald Scholarship Challenge to cap her Goucher career.
"Cary is a wonderful student and an extremely hard-working person," Smith said. "She's one of the hardest-working people I've ever met. There's no doubt that she's extremely talented, but a lot of people are. She's also really smart and good at reading between the lines and critical thinking, which is really, really useful in the way we have to compete."
In collegiate competition, there's a random draw for horses, meaning competitors are riding horses they haven't ridden before, so it's a little different than most competitions in which you ride your own horses that may specialize in certain events.
Hundley has three horses of her own stabled in Sykesville, Md. She competes with them outside of college.
"You just have to practice your lessons and learn how to read your horse and interpret what it is telling you," Smith said. "You get a feel for what you need to do to get the best performance possible out of the horse. It takes compassion, patience, physical strength, emotional strength. Cary is very good at all of those things. She's multifaceted."
Being multifaceted also allowed Hundley to compete at her sport's highest level while majoring in biology and minoring in business and equine studies. The equine studies program didn't exist at Goucher when she enrolled, but its creation gave her an opportunity to become Goucher's stable manager, and now she gets to stay a little longer at a place she has grown to love. Hundley is part of the first class to graduate as equine studies minors.
"I'm really excited that it has worked out so well and that I will be able to work at Goucher," she said. "This is a great way for me to stay involved with a program that has given me so much and to be able to give back. I know the horses, know the people and know how everything works. I'm excited and very happy that I got the job."
Photo Credit: Giana Terranova Photography