Equestrian success rides on flexibility

Members of Geneseo’s equestrian team work with the horses at head coach Kim Sanford’s Leg Up Stables at least four times per week. When they compete at Intercollegiate Horse Show Association shows throughout the season, however, they must demonstrate their finely honed skills on horses they’ve never ridden before.

“You’re not used to the horse, it’s not the same horse you’ve been practicing and riding and then you go and show,” junior Katie Nickels said. “You essentially get on and you go into the ring, you can adjust your stirrups, you can pick up your reigns and you go in. You have no time to get a feel for the horse or anything––that’s probably the hardest part about it.”

The horses for each rider are randomized in the morning before the all-day events begin. The shows include eight total divisions of competition, encompassing multiple levels of fences, flat and walk/trot riding. According to senior Emily Lockard, the most important aspect of IHSA competition is to ride with the same technical mastery on any horse, regardless of its unique personality.

The equestrian team completed its final two shows of the season at Cazenovia College on Saturday Feb. 21 and at St. Lawrence University on Sunday Feb. 22, placing third in both. The team also finished third in its region for the season, which started in October, and six riders qualified for the regional championships on March 28 at St. Lawrence.

Each rider accrues individual points based on the technical execution of their events, but the team is scored based on the performance of a “point rider” for each of the eight divisions. Just as random horses are selected for all riders on the morning of competition, the equestrian head coaches select point riders to score points for the team itself before the events begin. The point riders’ scores decide where the team will place as a whole with the lowest of the eight scores being dropped at the end of the competition day.

“We were able to really get a lot more practice, and I think we did better just because we were able to ride the horses in there before the show,” Nickels said.

Nickels also said that she attributes some of the team’s success to a new indoor arena that Sanford financed on the Leg Up Stables campus. Previously, the team practiced in a much smaller arena that allowed only one fence for jumping and two riders in the ring at a time. For home shows, the team had to rent a local barn space to accommodate all competing riders.

Equestrian is differentiated from other sports in that the riders not only train themselves to succeed at horse shows, but they also train the horses at their home stable. According to team members, Leg Up Stables has a total of 93 horses available for them to ride. Members often spend their off-season practices working with young horses to prepare them for equestrian competition.

“Working with the young horses is also really rewarding because you can take what you have learned and help teach a horse what it needs to do to be part of the lesson program,” senior Kayla Geier said.

According to senior Ashley Olin, the learning experience is mutual.

“The most challenging thing for me, at least, about being on equestrian is pushing myself to be the best rider I can be, because sometimes it means facing fears,” she said.

Olin added that despite the “lottery” that horse shows entail, team members are dedicated to supporting one another. “We all share the same love of horses and riding, and we are all working equally hard at reaching our personal and team goals of riding the best we can every day,” she said.