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With UD student Alexandra Tett aboard, Denzel makes a jump as trainer
Missy Ransehousen looks on. For
safety reasons, the horses speed and the height of the fences are lower
during practice sessions than in competition in the three-part sport known as eventing.
of Delaware student and Olympic hopeful Alexandra Tett has a special
bond with her athletic competition partner, an 11-year-old nicknamed
I trust my life to him every day, she said.
Shes not exaggerating.
Denzel, officially named Hawks Cay, is a 1,300-pound horse that Tett
rides in competition for the sport known as eventing, a kind of
equestrian triathlon sometimes called the ultimate test of horse and
In the cross-country portion of their sport, the two race at full
speed across uneven terrain, soaring over fences and hurtling through
water and other natural obstacles in competitions around the U.S. and
abroad. Its the most physically challenging of the three phases of
eventing, and its the one Tett loves the most.
In cross country, youre going as fast as you can, which is really great for an adrenaline junkie like me, she said.
But Im passionate about everything in eventing because all the
skills you use are important, and they have a practical purpose. In
Europe, they call it military riding because it trains horses and
riders for the skills needed in the military.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
They say that you dont choose the horse, the horse chooses you,
Alexandra Tett says. Its an individualistic partnershipand an
Eventing encompasses dressage, in which a rider guides a horse
through a series of exact, almost artistic, movements; cross country;
and show jumping, where the horse must clear a sequence of fences. Each
part of the competition showcases the horse and rider partnership, Tett
said, and emphasizes different aspects of skills in precision, stamina
Tett grew up in California, where she began riding at age 4 and
eventing at 10. I got serious about the sport when I was 10, she said.
Before that, I was just learning the ropes.
She trained with a coach and competed in California until she was
16, when a broken arm forced her off the team before the Pan Am Games, a
major international competition for young equestrians.
Disappointed but undeterred, she was invited to spend her senior year
of high school in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, as a working student
with top-level eventing rider and trainer Matt Brown. Her parents OKd
the move, and the experience of working with Brown in that kind of
intensive internship was invaluable, she said.
Olympic hopeful equestrian
Alexandra Tett gives a gentle pat to her horse, Hawks Cay, before a
recent training session at Blue Hill Farm near Unionville, Pennsylvania.
He was part of the U.S. Olympic team training, so I was able to
benefit from that, said Tett, who finished high school via online
coursework. You really get inside information about what is involved in
this level of training, and you learn and live it every day from 6 a.m.
to 8 p.m.
When her year with Brown ended, she continued to train in Chester
County, Pennsylvania, and realized she could commute from there to UD.
She enrolled with an interest in public relations and is now a junior in
the Department of Communication.
Being a full-time student and a dedicated athlete makes life
hectic, she said, crediting her online high school work and supportive
University faculty and staff with helping her develop time-management
She lives and takes most of her classes on campus, with
occasional online courses in winter and summer, and makes the 40-minute
drive to train with Hawks Cay at Blue Hill Farm near Unionville nearly
every day. UDs Winter Session schedule allows her to join other eventers for
intensive training during January, when athletes and their horses
typically move to facilities in Florida or South Carolina for the month.
After that, the season begins, with monthly competitions held through
Alexandra Tett walks Hawks Cay, whose informal or stable name
is Denzel, through the stables at Blue Hill Farm.
Its like having two separate lives as a student and an athlete,
because each thing is so time consuming, but Ive made it work so far,
Tett said. Theres a lot of sacrifices involved, but I want a degree. I
have a passion for riding, but I have a passion for [a career in public
Although Tett isnt looking at a future as a professional riderthe
odds of financial success are just too long, she saidshe doesnt plan
to give up riding and competing anytime soon. She envisions having a
career in public relations while continuing to work hard to keep her
Olympic hopes alive.
Internationally ranked in eventing, she just barely missed
accruing enough points in 2019 to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Her
competitions were limited when her horse sustained a temporary
injuryfrustrating, but it happens, she said.
As an international competitor, Tett now represents Zimbabwe, her
fathers home country. Shes a U.S. citizen but was able to also qualify
for a Zimbabwean passport because of his background, and she recently
completed the paperwork required to ride for that country in Olympic
Im proud to represent Zimbabwe, she said. My dad is very proud of his heritage.
Her parents are proud of her as well, she said, adding that they can
watch her ride without cringing at the risk of injury. Her father
often records her competitions and can be heard on many of the videos
yelling encouragement from behind the camera.
Tett is looking ahead to some major international competitions in the next few years. And then?
Paris 2024 is next, she said of those Summer Olympic Games. Ill
be more mature then and have a better plan, better control of my nerves.
Im very positive about my chances. And even at 24, Ill be one of the
youngest in the field.
Graduation from UD and a job in public relations are also on the horizon.
Im determined to make all the parts of my life fit together, she said. Eventually!
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape