What Equestrian Teams Mean to Me

Very often when I’m out and about at events like the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show that I attended this past weekend, I have an opportunity to tell people why I’m so passionate about the sport of intercollegiate equestrian. I don’t think I’ve ever shared that information in this blog, however, and I think it’s important for me to share with you readers.

I’ve been a horsewoman for my entire life.  In fact, I was an extremely lucky kid – I grew up with “horsey” parents surrounded by other “horsey” people.  (The technical term, I believe, is “spoiled brat.”)  Through my childhood and teen years, I competed aboard my own horses in local events and was fortunate in high school to get to ride a few other people’s horses as well.  Later, when I went to college, I was again fortunate and was able to keep my horse at home and continue to compete during the summer months.  The only thing missing from the equation was the fact that my college didn’t have a riding team and, while all of the friends I made at school thought that riding was a neat sport, we never shared that in common.

I was an upperclassman when I first learned about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and discovered that there was this neat team experience that so many other college riders got to have.  Needless to say, I was inspired – and more than a little jealous!  Little did I know that shortly after graduation from college, I would get to be part of an intercollegiate equestrian team after all – just not as a rider.  And thank goodness that I wasn’t riding because not being in the saddle gave me a better vantage point from which to observe exactly how fantastic the sport is!

Let me tell you, readers, riding is never so completely a team sport as it is for intercollegiate equestrian athletes.  In the time I spent mentoring the riders on my team, traveling with them to meets, and helping them organize their fundraising events, I learned that for equestrians, the concept of “team” goes beyond the day-to-day matters of training and competition.  If you’re an intercollegiate rider, you’re a teammate in the classroom, in the residence hall, in the van on the way to the meet, in the bathroom when your teammate can’t get her braid into her helmet, at the library, at the basketball game cheering on your fellow student athletes, and on the day you stand up in the wedding of one of your fellow riders long after you’ve gotten your diplomas.  (Teammate weddings are one of the only times that all of you trade your boots in for formal wear.)

And your coach?  Your coach is the engine that drives the team (and occasionally the one who drives the team bus).

Intercollegiate equestrian coaches don’t make much money and often work far more hours than their families would like them to.  They spend more hours at the hospital with their riders than with their own kids (and usually not even with horse-related injuries!), more hours in a fifteen passenger van than should be humanly possible, and usually possess a far better sense of humor than you’d expect to find in a person who is overworked, underpaid, and visits hospitals frequently.  Why do they put up with it all?  They can’t help themselves – they love it.  Every single minute of it.  (Admittedly maybe they don’t love the moment when their rider inexplicably fits five strides into the four stride line after being expressly told not to – but when a rider finally understands a concept the coach has been outlining for an entire semester, it all pays off.  If you think the rider is excited in that moment, it’s nothing compared to the excitement that coach feels.)

There should be no question then, readers, why I love intercollegiate equestrian sports.  There is inspiration and passion and magic to be found in them.  What’s more, college equestrian teams aren’t driven by money (unless it’s time for their annual fundraiser – then look out!) but instead are all about sharing this sport that we all love so much.  It’s about getting up before dawn on a cold Saturday morning because you get the opportunity to ride a horse with your friends.  It’s about all of the crazy road stories you tell year after year – who got lost on the way to this meet and who locked the keys in the van at Regionals.  (Remind me to tell you about the trip to Canada in 2010.  Or maybe not…)  It’s about coaches who inspire their riders to succeed – and wind up becoming lifetime friends and mentors along the way.

I was lucky to spend last weekend with a group of young riders on the cusp of experiencing intercollegiate riding and all of the wonderful experiences that come with it.  I also got to spend time with the coaches who will get to share the journey with them.  I came home grateful that I get the opportunity to be inspired by all of them once again and can’t wait to go back in 2015.

(Do you need help finding your intercollegiate equestrian home?  Contact me.)

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