May 2015 - Monte Vista Christian School
Written by CRM
Saturday, 02 May 2015 01:28

Strong high school equestrian team is one of Santa Cruz program’s many jewels.

Sydney Shelby, Grace Belmont (6th grader who won her class at zones and qualified as an individual for Nationals) and Skye Bolen, the 8th grade rider who won her Intermediate flat class at Nationals last year. Sydney and Skye are the middle school co-captains. Photo by Cassie Belmont

Monte Vista Christian School is a little factory for lifelong equine enthusiasts. Many who were first introduced to horses through PE classes or summer camp at the college prep school are now top contenders on the open show circuit and in high school and collegiate competition. The school’s equestrian center is the training base for the UC Santa Cruz Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team, competitors from other colleges and youth and adults who board horses there.

Skye Bolen practicing at home. Photo: Cassie Belmont

The school and its stables are set on 100 acres in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s a peaceful environment for full days of activity at the barn, where trainer Cassie Belmont has been at the helm for eight years. Her days start with teaching youngsters in five PE classes of typically 10 students apiece. After school, it’s students who own their own horses and compete on the open circuit and middle school, high school or collegiate teams. Beginners in western tack to riders winning in the 3’6” hunter/jumper classes on the open show circuit represent the range of riding styles and experiences that take place at MVCS Equestrian.

Seventh grader Sydney Shelby says she is “ecstatic” about having found the Monte Vista Christian School and its riding program when she was in fourth grade. She’s progressed from having a little bit of riding experience to having contested her second IEA Nationals as a member of MVCS’s Middle School team, for which she competed in the Intermediate Team competition in Wellington, FL in late April. Last year, Sydney won the Nationals’ Novice Individual Over Fences class at Nationals.

“I love this program so much because I can ride during PE then come back after school and ride my two horses,” Sydney explains. The Interscholastic Equestrian Association is an all-volunteer organization with the mission of bringing more young riders into the sport and hooking them on it for life. It has had exactly that effect on Sydney, who, at only 13, is already looking into colleges with opportunities to continue riding and competing, thanks largely to her great experience with the Monte Vista program.

Cassie with Sydney Shelby and Skye Bolen after regional finals at our barn. Photo: Jen Shelby

Consistent Success

The school’s IEA teams have a remarkable five consecutive years of Zone 10 High Point championships, from 2010 through 2014. The high school team finished third at Nationals in 2013 and Sydney was one of two middle school riders to earn individual championships at Nationals last year. This year, the high school team finished tied for second in the Zone championships. With the zone’s top two teams assured a spot at Nationals, the second place tie was broken by number of first place finishes during the season. In that scoring, Elvenstar topped MCVS by one point, so that squad was set to join the Zone’s championship team, from Triple Bar Stables, at Nationals April 24-26 in Florida.

The MVCS team after hosting the IEA regional finals. Photo: Annie Lingard

Cassie is thrilled with the growth of the high school league. As emcee of the Zone’s recent season-finale banquet, she recounted that teams originally needed to earn just one point to qualify for the Nationals when the event debuted in 2003. There were 170 riders in the Zone 10 league, (California, Nevada and Hawaii) at the time and today there are 440, from 27 high schools and 25 middle schools.

“It’s all about sportsmanship and it’s a wonderful organization that really creates a level playing field for competitors,” Cassie explains. As in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition, riders draw horses provided by the host schools. “You might draw a beautiful Warmblood or a little spotted pony! People have the opportunity to ride, show and learn about horses without having to spend a lot of money.”

The teams’ competitive track record has made Monte Vista a well-known and highly regarded name in equestrian circles. Administration holds the school’s equestrian program in equally high regard. While attending new student sessions with her daughter recently, Cassie was pleased to learn that the riding program is a top component in the school’s recruiting efforts. As one of very few high schools to have horses and a stable on the premises, the mission of “providing excellence in equestrian education” is an everyday reality at Monte Vista Christian School.

For more information, visit or call Cassie Belmont at 831-206-9707.