There are countless reasons why you should ride on an equestrian team in college. I had an absolute blast and created so many memories. Not only do you gain skills to improve your riding, but the experience will also bring you lessons you'll use for the rest of your life.
Read on to hear the 7 lessons I learned from being part of Findlay's IHSA team!
Life as a college student can be stressful enough without adding sports and horses to the mix. Between classes, homework, exams, practice, workouts, and maybe add in a part-time job, it can be a lot to handle. So proper time management is a key skill to learn early on!
There may have been a time in Freshman year where I called my mom at 11:30 pm just about crying because I was exhausted after having a late-night team meeting and still having a ton of statistics homework due the next morning (this was before I learned the art of "the all-nighter").
It took some time, but I figured out the whole time management thing. My biggest tip? - Schedule out time to do homework in the library (not at home, where you can get distracted) each day and make a list of what to get done for the day, and stick to it! Once you have it down, this is a key skill that you will carry over into your life after college as well.
For Findlay, and I would assume many other schools, the only time that team members are all available for practice is in the morning before classes start. So that meant we had practice bright and early at 5:30 AM! Believe me when I tell you there were some mornings (especially in the dead of winter in Ohio) where the last thing you want to do is get up in the dark and ride without stirrups for an hour. I’m not naturally a morning person, nor am I a night owl. I would consider myself more akin to a sloth… aka I need a lot of sleep!
So I would be a total grandma and go to bed at (I kid you not) 8:30 pm the nights before practice so I would get the needed sleep to be able to function properly. Now, most people don’t have to go to the extremes I did to get up that early, but just be aware that you will most likely have to learn to be a morning person if you’re on an equestrian team! Between practice and horse show mornings, our days start pretty early.
I was very lucky to have a stellar Freshman season. I went undefeated in the regular season, all the way to the National Finals. I worked hard all year long and went into Nationals determined to do well. This was my first “big” show ever and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I couldn’t eat the whole day leading up to my class because I was going to throw up. I went into my flat class and didn’t make too many mistakes. Could my transitions have been better? Definitely. Could I have gotten my horse a bit rounder and worked the ring? For sure. But I stayed on and made it through the longest flat class of my life. When we went back in the ring for placings and my name was called for 7th, I was devastated. Not because I thought the judge was wrong, but because 7th wasn’t good enough for me and I felt like a failure. It took me a while to get over that “bad ride” and realize that I rode fantastically and was one of the Top 10 competitors in the ENTIRE NATION! Over the years in IHSA I learned how to look less at the actual results and focus more on the improvements I made as a rider.
Fast forward to my final show as a senior ever... It’s Zone Finals and I’m heading into the ring for my course (I’m competing in Individual Novice Over Fences)… I'm nervous but not about to throw up or cry like I used to, and my first 3 jumps are beautiful. If I kept riding like that I was sure to go to Nationals again… but then my brain completely goes blank and I jump the wrong jump. I have never gone off course once in my life... except for this one time. Freshman me would have come out of that ring crying, but senior me came out smiling and laughing! I remember saying “Well that’s a great way to end my IHSA career guys.” There was no point in getting upset, what was done was done and I was just proud of myself that I could now go canter around a course and not be so nervous that I wanted to die inside. I thought back on all the great courses and blue ribbons I had won the past year and this one bad course ended up just being funny to me. I learned to laugh at myself and just enjoy the ride!
Schooling UF's Fhin for Intermediate Over Fences (Photo Courtesy of Hannah McColl)
There’s no doubt that IHSA helps you become an even better rider. IHSA runs on the draw format where you get assigned a random horse for your class and you get on and ride with no warm-up. Yep, you have just your opening circle to figure out what kind of horse you have underneath you. "Do I need to push each stride? Or am I on an actual firecracker and better sit chilly? Well, I better figure it out ASAP"!
You learn how to gauge your mounts very quickly and how to adapt your riding style to make it around the course. This has given me a confidence that not everyone has. I have no qualms about hopping on a random horse and immediately bopping around a course, I prefer less warm-up because it keeps me from getting in my head and psyching myself out. The ability to ride a ton of different types of horses is an invaluable skill, whether you want to ride professionally in the future or not. IHSA gives you the perfect opportunity to practice your adaptability.
Hands down the best part of IHSA is the relationship and camaraderie you build with your teammates. College teams are the only chance equestrians get to ride in a team setting and it has given me some of the greatest memories. Crazy bus rides singing at the top of our lungs, eating way too much Chipotle and Panera, and all the immeasurable support we gave each other. Whether you had a great ride or a terrible one, a teammate was there to pat you on the back and lift you up... LITERALLY- the first time I won highpoint rider, I was hoisted on the top of the two teammates' shoulders and paraded around the ring.
Our team may have been known in the region as the obnoxious one because we were competitive, fierce, and ended each show shouting our team chant for everyone to hear. We practiced hard and truly enjoyed competing!
Horses have a great way of calling you out when you get a little too cocky. You may be the greatest rider ever but a good IHSA horse will still make you work properly for it. I went into a flat class for Regionals once thinking I had it in the bag... only to pick up the wrong lead in BOTH directions. I was mortified and it just goes to show that you should never get too overconfident. Any horse can be tricky and even a simple transition can prove to be difficult and drop you to the bottom of the judge's standing. Make sure to ride every stride no matter what!
Regardless of if you’ve been riding forever and show the 3’6, or if you’ve never sat on a horse before, IHSA has a place for everyone! As opposed to an NCEA team, IHSA has divisions from Walk/Trot to Open 3’ Over Fences. So even if you’ve never shown before, or ridden a horse, you can still participate and make a difference for your team. Riders are placed in divisions based on their riding and showing history so it creates a level playing field.
I didn’t show much growing up but have been riding since I was 4, so that allowed me to be fairly competitive in the Walk/Trot/Canter and Novice (now known as Novice and Limit) Divisions. Each division is equally important to the success of the team so every team member plays a vital role regardless of their experience level. This again reinforces the supportive atmosphere, and we all rooted for each other to succeed, which is not always seen on other show circuits.
Waiting in lineup after a particularly rough flat class during my senior year. But still smiling nonetheless! (Photo Courtesy of Hannah McColl)
Joining an equestrian team will give you amazing opportunities to improve your riding and form lifelong memories and friendships. There are going to be great moments and moments you’d rather forget, but overall an experience that not only helps you grow as a rider but also as a person in general. So if you’ve been toying with the idea of joining your college’s riding team, definitely do it! I often look back fondly on my time spent as a Findlay Oiler! #goilers
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