There’s a lingering perception regarding collegiate riding that annoys me to no end. (In fact, were I to be named queen of the intercollegiate equestrian realm for a day, I’d banish this perception to the farthest reaches of the kingdom and forbid it to return. No joke.)
I refer to the idea that, in order to be picked for a college equestrian team, you have to be an expert rider. Every year I encounter students who have either created this idea within their own minds or have been told this by well-meaning parents, coaches, and/or friends. And every year, I have to work hard to dispel the myth and try to prevent it from trickling down into the next generation of collegiate riders.
(Considering the fact that the issue comes up annually, I’m not certain I’ve been successful at stemming said tide, but it’s a work in process.)
Hear this: The majority of slots available on any IHSA riding team are not reserved for the top riders, they’re instead dedicated to the lower-ranking ones.*
And if that idea – the idea that intercollegiate teams are made up of beginner through advanced riders – doesn’t blow your mind, try this one on for size: At the end of many intercollegiate horse shows, a team’s chances at overall victory often come to rest on the shoulders of their walk-trot rider(s).
That’s right: The last class on the schedule in an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) or an Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) meet is for beginner riders who have had at most a year of riding instruction and may never have previously competed at a horse show before. So the win – or loss – of the entire team comes down to the abilities of the least expert rider on the team, not the most expert.
Sounds backwards, doesn’t it?
But you see, when Bob Cacchione founded the IHSA in 1967, it was with the idea that anyone who wanted to compete in intercollegiate horse shows should be able to do so regardless of their previous experience and at a reasonable price. In the over 40 years since, the mission of the organization hasn’t changed and each fall, newly minted beginner riders are introduced to the world of horse showing through the IHSA. So whether or not riding in walk-trot at the end of the show day is backwards is irrelevant; instead that particular show format is in perfect line with the fundamental tenet of the organization.
Now, please don’t think that I’m saying that if you are a talented rider with a wall full of blue ribbons that the IHSA or IDA aren’t for you and it’s NCAA or nothing. (Remember, the teams range from beginner to advanced – they’re at their best when they have depth on their rosters – and the only way to build depth is to have a wide range of riders at all levels.) The point I’m trying to make is that everyone has an equal opportunity to compete in intercollegiate equestrian competition, both experts and non-experts alike.
So cast aside any preconceived notions you have concerning intercollegiate riding. When I work with students, all I want to know is what type of school they’re looking for, what they’d like to study, and how I can help them in the search process. Of the nearly 400 colleges and universities who are home to intercollegiate equestrian teams, I’m sure we can find at least one that will fit that student’s needs and desires, whether they’re a lifetime rider with miles of show ring experience or someone who just loves horses and wants to see what equestrian competition is all about.
Get in touch with me and let’s figure it out!
*(NCAA equestrian teams are a slightly different animal; that’s information for another blog.)