Let’s Talk About Riding in College

Readers, did you get a chance to hear from National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) co-chair Tom O’Mara when he stopped by HITS Saugerties the weekend before last?

(If you missed it, here’s the video.)

Tom is an enthusiastic supporter of the NCEA and the work he and his colleagues are doing to grow the sport of intercollegiate equestrian is beginning to produce results both for high school students and for programs on the college side.

For those who are setting out on the college search for the first time, however, I want to break down a bit of Tom’s short interview so you have clarity as you continue to research schools and programs. (The poor guy was limited to only a few minutes to explain a topic that really requires hours if you want to understand each subtle nuance of our crazy, yet wonderful sport – great job within the time allotted, Tom!)

Here goes:

  • The varsity athletic experience for equestrians is NOT limited to only those athletes participating in NCEA programs. Many institutions who have chosen not to join the NCEA but have long-established Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) teams on their campuses also have athletic departments and athletic directors who have supported their transition to full varsity status. At my last count, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or more varsity IHSA programs in addition to the 23 NCEA programs currently on the market. (Blogger’s note – When Tom mentions in the video that 18 of the 23 NCEA programs compete in the head-to-head format of the organization, the other five teams participate in IHSA competition, which is more a tournament-style format.) There are also a handful of varsity dressage opportunities out there and even one varsity eventing team!
  • IHSA club teams and NCEA varsity teams can coexist – even at the same institution! Want to attend a university that has a super-competitive NCEA team but don’t want to switch to the head-to-head format – or else don’t want the pressure of varsity athletics? Many equestrians at those institutions share your sentiment and have gone so far as to form their own club equestrian teams separate from the university’s varsity equestrian branch. Typically they practice and compete at private farms off-campus and with coaches unaffiliated with the school, but doing so gives the students a bit more control of how they want their intercollegiate equestrian experience to be (e.g. Do they want to be nationally-competitive or just have fun? How many days per week do they wish to ride?).
  • Intercollegiate equestrian for both NCEA and IHSA competitors is the only year-round sport currently played at colleges and universities. That’s right, students – if you commit to an intercollegiate equestrian team (and the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) is included in this statement as well), you’re committing to a schedule of shows that begin in late September and go all the way through the end of spring semester. As a varsity intercollegiate equestrian, you’re committing to a full year of workouts (which are typically held at o’dark thirty in the morning), keeping your grades up to remain academically eligible, volunteer service, fundraising, and more. There is no off-season for equestrian – your dedication to the sport has to be all-consuming.

The main takeaway from Tom’s brief interview is that there really is an intercollegiate riding opportunity out there for everyone who wants one. You choices come in all shapes in sizes and are to be found at colleges and universities of all shapes and sizes. The key is putting in the time to research and learn which ones will be the best fit for you.

(Need help in the search? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide you.)


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