The Right Approach

I had the great fortune to attend the 2013 edition of the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show in sunny Wellington, Florida over the weekend (well, mostly sunny – it rained for a good deal of Saturday but it was still quite warm, especially compared to the Midwest this time of year!)  While there, I met up with a lot of wonderful families, determined young riders, and college coaches and admissions officers from across the country.  It was a fantastic event and one that continues to grow each year as more and more prospective intercollegiate equestrian athletes seek ways to become members of IHSA, NCEA, and IDA teams after their high school careers come to a close.

The 2013 College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show, Wellington, FL
The 2013 College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show, Wellington, FL

As always, the event was a great opportunity for me to chat with the intercollegiate coaches and equestrian program directors to whom I send students each fall as an independent educational consultant.  Many of the equestrian people are longtime friends and colleagues while others are people I’ve long wanted to meet so that I could ask them specific questions about their programs.  (One such coach this year was Mimi Wroten of Sweet Briar College, who’s a big part of the ANRC and someone whom I had a lot of questions for regarding that unique intercollegiate equestrian format – more to come on that in a future blog post!)  I also got to have some great conversations with Peter Cashman, the IHSA’s director at large and the coach of the USMA equestrian team at West Point, and with IHSA founder Bob Cacchione; both men have put a lot of time and energy into making intercollegiate equestrian competition the growing activity that it continues to be and it was great to hear that their enthusiasm for the organization never wavers.

In each conversation I had over the weekend, I noticed one distinct and common thread that ran through all of them:  Everyone wanted to find the program and the student that had the right fit.

Posing with IHSA founder Bob Cacchione.
Posing with IHSA founder Bob Cacchione.

Back in my recruiting days, it was my job to speak with high school coaches and trainers in an effort to determine if they had a student who would be able to fit into my school’s equestrian (and academic!) program.  But back then, the common theme that I heard from those on the high school side was a sincere distrust of college coaches and their recruiting methods.  I was on the admission and enrollment side of the equation a little more than the equestrian side, so the conversations that I was able to have with the high school coaches were a little more skewed to the academic, for which they were normally grateful.  But along the way, I heard horror stories from many of them about top riders who were recruited strongly by particular schools and coaches, only to enroll at the college or university and discover that the school and/or program had been blatantly misrepresented as part of the recruiting process.

There were college coaches who promised full ride scholarships, then cut students from their teams after the first semester, effectively making the school completely unaffordable for the student’s family.

There were also coaches who promised students that they’d have time for other activities, like sororities or clubs or musical groups, only to effectively own every minute of that student’s day once she set foot on campus and render the club participation impossible.

And the worst story I ever heard – ultimately the story that prompted me to open my educational practice! – was that of a top rider from a top high school program who was recruited to ride on an NCEA team in the southwest.  She was specifically told that she would like riding for one coach down there (at University A) and would hate riding for the other coach who was recruiting her (at University B).  So she happily signed on to ride at University A – without knowing that, over the summer prior to her arrival, the coach from University A and the coach from University B switched schools.  Thus, when she arrived on campus, she was face to face with the coach that she already had a not-so-pleasant history with.  In the end, all of the upheaval resulted in her transferring home to a community college and not fulfilling her NCEA equestrian dreams.

Tragic.

Needless to say, I was immensely relieved that, from the moment I arrived in Wellington and began to hear from the college coaches (both NCEA and IHSA), each one of them was saying the same thing:

Come to my college if our programs – riding and academic – will be a fit for your goals.

Go visit our competitor schools before you commit to us so that you know what’s out there.

Your academic pursuits come FIRST.

I was able to consult with a lot of families during my time in Wellington.
I was able to consult with a lot of families during my time in Wellington as they searched for the right fit school.

It was a common theme throughout the weekend – and one that was driven home by Karin Bump from the equine program at Cazenovia College during her talk on Sunday morning prior to the awards.  In her research on equine programs and the students across the United States who are enrolled in them, Karin has discovered that the average student who has an equine major visited one school or less during his or her college search.  That’s far less than the national average and way too few for students to be making truly informed decisions about their futures!

In the end, then, I came away from my weekend at the CPI Horse Show with a feeling of success, not only because I had an opportunity to connect with so many people, but because I connected with so many people who are interested in doing right by our future intercollegiate equestrians.  The students and their parents as well seemed to come away from the weekend with a better sense of how to approach their college search and ultimate college decision.  It’s an important one – and not one that people like myself and my college colleagues take lightly.

The intercollegiate equestrian world isn’t a perfect one, but it’s one that I’m glad to be a part of.  If you’re interested in joining it and need guidance along the way, contact me.

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