To Showcase or Not

Because of my longstanding affiliation with the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show held in Wellington, Florida every winter, I’m often asked by both client families (and families in general) if I recommend that their son or daughter attend the event in order to ride in front of college coaches and begin the process of becoming a recruited athlete.  With the addition of another recruiting showcase to the 2015 calendar of events – the Junior Equestrian Festival, which will be held in Connecticut in October for hunt seat riders and in Florida in January for western riders – there are additional opportunities for students to begin to engage with college representatives and kick off their college search.

As a prospective intercollegiate equestrian, should you mark your calendar for one of these events?

The short answer is: maybe.

First and foremost, I love the fact that intercollegiate equestrian sports continue to grow and that this growth necessitates the formalization of recruiting showcases like the CPI Horse Show and the Junior Equestrian Festival, as well as equestrian-specific college fairs like the one hosted in the Houston area by the folks at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show.  It’s exciting and it means that a lot more young riders will have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport during their college years as opposed to having to give it up in order to obtain the education they desire.

I also love the showcase events themselves; it’s extremely rare for students to have the opportunity to talk with dozens of college equestrian coaches in the same place at the same time and compare and contrast both the riding programs and the academic programs of a variety of schools without traveling to several different states and spending thousands of dollars to do so.  (Plus the time you save by simply being able to walk from one table to the next to ask your questions is priceless.)  I also love that the riding portion of the event is framed in terms of teaching students what it takes to become a successful college equestrian; the judges give wonderful feedback to competitors, as do the coaches, so even if you don’t place well in your particular class, you can still be a winner with the level of information you take home with you at the end of the day.

The question as to whether or not you should sign up for an event, however, has nothing to do with the event itself and everything to do with your own personal college search.  Ask yourself the following questions to assess whether or not a recruiting showcase should be on your calendar:

  • What do I currently know about intercollegiate equestrian sports?  If the answer is “just about everything because I follow the IHSA and NCEA on Twitter and Facebook and dog-ear the pages of the intercollegiate issue of The Chronicle of the Horse,” then maybe you don’t need to sign up for a showcase, since a lot of the information that coaches and organizers share with families has to do with the nuances of the intercollegiate riding formats (including the differences between the IHSA and NCEA draw structure) and how you can assess which one might be the best fit for you.  If you’re also familiar with the other college equestrian team options, such as the ANRC, the IDA, and intercollegiate eventing, then you probably won’t gain as much as some of the other students in attendance.
  • What type of college or university do I see myself attending – a smaller liberal arts college or a large research university?  If you already have an idea of what type of school will fit you and your academic/social needs after high school – say you’ve done some campus visits and have begun visiting school web sites to learn more – then you’re well on your way to creating a list of schools that you will apply to as a senior.  Use this initial research to examine the list of schools who will be in attendance at the recruiting event – are some of your potential schools there or will there be schools present that you’ve already ruled out?  Are you particularly interested in learning more about more than one of the colleges who will be present because they offer academic programs that interest you?  (A quick scan of their web sites will tell you if the attending schools will match up with your search criteria.)  If you plan to spend the time and money to attend the event, it’s important that the schools who will be there will have something to offer you beyond just the riding team (even though that’s an important part of your decision process too!)
  • Will my family horse show budget allow for this trip?  College is expensive and the costs to attend seem to increase exponentially with each passing year.  Horse showing is likewise an expensive prospect and most of the families that I work with set a specific budget each year to make showing possible.  So while the majority of the colleges and universities who send recruiters to these showcase events each year offer a variety of scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid to their accepted students, it’s worth sitting down with your parents to examine whether the cost of attending the event can be safely off-set by the amount of aid you’re bound to receive from the schools present.  (Plugging your family’s financial information into the online net price calculators of the schools who will attend can help with this cost/benefit analysis – and it’s a good practice to get into for all of the colleges that you’re interested in anyway.)
  • Where are the schools that I’m interested in looking at located?  Some of the more regionalized recruiting showcases tend to bring in schools that are located within driving distance of the event as opposed to schools from farther afield who might have to fly personnel in.  (And sometimes the events are also at the whim of the year-round competition calendars for IHSA and NCEA, which can limit the availability of coaches no matter where they’re from.)  This can be advantageous for you if you’re a West Coast student who’s interested in a lot of East Coast schools and you attend a showcase in the eastern part of the country, but likewise, it could also be a detriment if you’re a West Coast student looking for a West Coast school and the nearest showcase event that fits your schedule is held in Florida.  While it never hurts to look at schools located outside of your selected region (you might find the dream school you didn’t know existed!), if you know with greater than 90 percent certainty that you’ll never attend a school that requires a multi-day drive or a cross-country flight to get to, you’ll probably waste more time and money than you’ll save by signing up for the event.

Of course, if you happen to be a student who is just beginning your college search and starting to examine the variety of equestrian opportunities available to you in higher education and you have the time and funds to go, then I strongly encourage you to stop reading this blog right now and start the application process.  Nowhere else in the U.S. will you find such a passionate group of people in one place who want to share with you their experiences the wonderful sport of intercollegiate equestrian and will invite you to join them.

(I’m one of those people and I hope to see you at an event soon!  But if you can’t make it and need help with your college search, contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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