Cliched or not, it’s true that there is no “i” in team – and if you spend enough time with the members of any IHSA riding team, no matter what school they attend or what discipline they ride, you’ll discover that these are the very people who epitomize the saying.
I spent last Saturday at a hunt seat meet with the riders of Zone 6, Region 4 and IHSA founder Bob Cacchione. It was the first truly cold day of the winter (4 degrees in the morning with a high of 17 later in the day, though the wind chill prevented it from ever feeling too warm, even in the indoor arena) and 13 teams had come in from across Michigan and over the border in Canada to compete. You would think under such conditions, everyone would be grumpy in their many layers and in a hurry to finish the show so they could go home and thaw out – but not so with the IHSA riders. Every one of them was there to show and show they did!
That attitude and stick-to-it-ivness is exactly what I love about intercollegiate equestrian sports and why I do what I do for a living. Sure, horse people are a notoriously tenacious bunch to begin with – but when you take those kids with a passion for riding, put them in a college setting where all of the categories that divided them in high school disappear, and then add the camaraderie of a team competition format, there’s something unbeatable about the combination. Every kid at that meet on Saturday wanted to win, not only for themselves, but for their teams – and yet, no matter how the placings fell at the end of classes, there were no tears, no hard feelings, and no bickering. Instead, they all helped one another – whether it was the home team running the show tearing down jumps and holding horses, or the visitors helping their teammates polish boots, memorize courses, and straighten jacket collars. All of the teams mingled and laughed together and at the end of the day, the grins were as big on the faces of the losers as those of the winners.
That’s what I want for my students: I want them to have those experiences as part of a college team, a cohesive group where their individual skills are needed to make the whole better than the sum of all its parts. The lessons they learn about teamwork, selflessness, and hard work will serve them well in all of their future endeavors, both in and out of the saddle – indeed, none of the students I spoke with over the course of the weekend were future horse trainers. Instead, they were aspiring doctors, chemists, pilots, accountants, teachers, and artists.
Intercollegiate equestrian sports are thriving right now – nearly 400 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada field teams – and I’m excited for all of my students to find the right school that will allow them to share in the experiences that the students I spent the weekend with had. (Well, maybe without the cold temperatures…)
Interested in finding the right school and right program? Let me know!