When I tell people I’m on the equestrian team, the most common reaction I get is, “We have an equestrian team?” As the rest of The University community enjoys sleeping in on Saturday mornings, we wake up at 5 a.m. and drive to New Jersey to spend the day at a horse show.
We hosted our home show Saturday at Phoenix Rising Farm in Milford, N.J. Being the home team meant that it fell to us to get the horses ready, make sure the correct riders were in each class, hand out ribbons and hold horses in between classes.
Our show was the biggest one of the fall season, with 143 riders and 240 rides.
Senior captain Catherine Thurston said she was impressed with how the show went.
“As a whole the show went really smoothly and everyone worked together to make sure everything went off on time,” she said.
Overall we finished fifth out of 10 teams. Thurston brought home our team’s only win in the Open Flat, which is the most advanced division. Six of our riders, inlcuding me, placed third.
Classes are divided by skill level. Inexperienced riders begin in the Walk-Trot division and can earn points to move up to more advanced ones. In our flat classes, we are judged on our form and our ability to transition from walk to trot to canter. In jumping classes, we are judged on our ability to maintain good form while jumping a confusing and intricate course of eight fences.
It sounds easy when you put it in a nutshell. Horseback riding is actually really hard. There’s so much to think about, all while riding a thousand-pound animal that has a mind of its own. We get two minutes in the ring in front of a judge who is watching our every move, from our heels to our hands. If we make one mistake, it’s over.
What makes riding so nerve-racking is that we give up part of our control to another living being, whereas in other sports players are in total control of themselves. Growing up, my instructor used to tell us to be nice to our ponies because they could kill us. It may seem like a bold statement, but she was right. All it takes is one second, one bad stride. If we fall wrong, we risk breaking our necks or backs. Since we draw horses out of a hat and compete without practicing or getting to know them, nearly anything can happen. The point is to challenge the riders and keep them guessing. But it can also be terrifying, and it adds an element of luck to all of our rides.
The best feeling in the world is hearing your number called at the top of the results list. It means that the hours of practice, the early mornings and the grueling minutes in front of the judge have all paid off.
Nov. 13, 2014