By Jim Fenton
EASTON, Mass. - Her equestrian career at Stonehill College was interrupted for two years because of an injury and an internship.
Diana Cabral of West Bridgewater was unable to compete as a sophomore after suffering a broken leg in a riding accident the previous summer, and then she was working in Washington, D.C., for half of her junior year.
The West Bridgewater High School graduate got the chance to spend a full season with the Skyhawks in this, her senior year, and she has been able to put quite a finish together.
Cabral is the lone Stonehill rider to qualify for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championships, to be held in Lexington, Ky., May 5-8.
The criminology major earned a trip to Kentucky after earning reserve champion honors for novice equitation over fences at the Zone 1 competition held at Mount Holyoke earlier this month.
"It's really nice," said Cabral, who will be in Lexington during Kentucky Derby week. "I never thought this would happen. I never thought I had the ability to do this well.
"I'm really happy that I can end on such a high note. Regardless of how I do at nationals, it's been a great opportunity for me."
Cabral earned a spot in the IHSA regionals in Hanover where she was a reserve champion in novice fences and that sent her to the Zone 1 competition.
Once she got there, Cabral was the only Stonehill rider to advance to the nationals with a strong performance.
"I knew I would be able to make it to regionals because I had the points, and from regionals, you have to get first or second to make it to the zone," said Cabral. "I honestly didn't think I'd make it past that point, but I had a really good trip when I jumped around at zones.
"It's been a dream. I wasn't expecting it at all, so it's been kind of nice."
According to first-year head coach Allegra Valberg, Cabral just got better and better as her senior season went along to the point where she thought the rider had a chance to qualify for the nationals.
"She's had a really good year," said Valberg. "She has been consistently first and second for us. She came to me in the winter and said that she wanted an opportunity to point out (and get into the regional and zone competition). I told her if she worked hard and showed what she can do, we'd show her.
"She worked hard in the January break and came back in February and has been amazing. She was incredibly consistent in all the spring shows. Her efforts really paid off. She's an incredibly hard worker. She's brave, and she's really good at adjusting to different horses."
Cabral began competing at horse shows at the age of eight, and her family has always owned horses.
When it came time to find a college, Cabral chose Stonehill in part because of the equestrian program would allow her to continue riding.
Cabral's freshman season was a time of adjustment as she got used to the different competition that takes place in college.
"My freshman year, I showed a lot, but I wasn't that great," said Cabral. "It was a totally different experience. You have to learn to adapt quickly in college shows because you randomly draw a horse, get two minutes and you have to go in the ring and be perfect."
Cabral broke her leg while riding a horse in the summer of 2008, keeping her out of the next season, and she was working in Washington the following year.
That lost time has been made up in a special way for Cabral this season as she will be closing it out in style at the Lexington Horse Farm, chasing a national title.
"I want to do well, but I'm happy to make it to this point," said Cabral. "Either way, it's been a really successful year for me personally.
"I'm really excited because I've been competing (in college) and it's just really exciting to make it all the way to the national level. It's really been a great experience. I've learned a lot through the four years."