Life as an Intercollegiate Equestrian

Randi Heathman
The Equestrian College Advisor

Bridgewater College riding programFor most athletes, the transition from high school to college involves learning to play their sport at a faster pace or find themselves facing larger, tougher opponents.  For equestrians, however, making the same transition from their high school competitions into the intercollegiate realm is far more drastic.

Gone is the format of one horse and rider team hoping to out-class a group of similar horse and rider combinations and be declared the best.  Instead, that familiar framework is replaced by a team structure that utilizes a draw system wherein each rider in a particular class draws the name of an unknown mount from a hat just minutes prior to their ride!  No warm up or “getting to know you” period is allowed for horse and rider; instead, riders must literally learn as they go, performing in front of the judges as soon as they pick up the reins.

Yet though it might initially seem cruel to take collegiate equestrians out of their comfort zones so drastically, most are enthusiastic in their support for the unique system, which is based purely on horsemanship and skill and omits the need for high-dollar mounts and expensive trainers – something that has long given traditional horse shows an air of elitism.

In addition, the intercollegiate equestrian format has divisions for not only the most experienced riders, but also the least experienced, with a beginner division that encourages new riders to try riding for the first time.

Couple the inclusiveness of the structure with the cost-effectiveness of teams not having to travel to their meets with horses in tow, and the intercollegiate equestrian system begins to appear like a big friendly club that spans nearly 400 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.

Thus, when it comes to intercollegiate equestrian sports, the change in format isn’t to be feared so much as embraced.  It’s an exciting opportunity for high school equestrian athletes to take their skills and their riding to a whole new level and all they need to do to make it happen is a little research on what college has the academic program and riding team that will be their best match.

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