Ephs horse around, form stable love for riding steeds

Of all the physical activities at our fingertips on campus – from team sports to club sports to even crazy wilderness activities like snowshoeing – horseback riding is rarely mentioned. Yes, dear friends, horseback riding is actually much more physically strenuous than you would ever imagine. As a helpful analogy, turn to James Cameron’s Avatar for a moment. The Na’vi’s preferred mode of transportation is flight via aerial banshees: They physically connect to their steed through a fibrous interface; their two minds coalesce and their thoughts become one. The strong women of the Williams equestrian team tame banshees every practice, attempting to forge similar bonds with their mounts while avoiding gnashing teeth and sharp hooves.
For the equestrian team, riding isn’t about the glory of victory in competition; it’s about the challenge of pacifying and merging with another being infinitely more powerful than themselves. “It’s like you’re taming the beast,” Sally Mairs ’13 said with a glint in her eye. “This animal beneath you that can do whatever it wants. But it’s definitely thrilling. It’s a cool feeling when you feel like you’re communicating with the horse and working together and having a connection.”
Riders on the Williams team take out different horses every time they drive to the barn 20 minutes away from campus, making the development of a stable bond with the same horse difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, the riders relish this challenge. “If you’re on a really bad horse, it’s like if-you-don’t-fix-this-you’re-gonna-die type learning,” Carly Schulman ’13 said. “But once you get whatever you’re trying to get done, it’s very rewarding.”
Perhaps the riders derive a bit of fun from the adrenaline rush evoked by traveling through space at high speeds, but falling off the horses is definitely never fun. Every rider, of course, has that one bad spill she will always remember, and Pinsi Lei ’12 is no exception. “When I was going around a corner, I fell off my horse right onto a fence that had a pole sticking out of it,” Lei said. “And that pole ripped through three layers of my clothes! I’m actually wearing the t-shirt right now – it said ‘Williams’ in huge letters on the back, but now there’s a big hole in the word.” Hannah Matheny ’12 might be one exception to the bad fall rule. “I can’t think of any falls. I guess none stand out because I just sort of assume that I fall off a lot,” Matheny said.
Given the obscurity of the sport and its lack of exposure on the College campus, many will wonder what this equestrian stuff entails. Because members of the equestrian team practice an understated art, a typical sports fan might overlook their accomplishments. Riders aren’t on a horse doing flips or anything dramatic. It’s a sport steeped in military tradition, with a premium placed on elegance, control and etiquette. “I always get the question, ‘Oh you’re on the equestrian team … so you guys just race?’” Vera Cecelski ’13 said. “The nuance of the sport isn’t really perceived.”
At the collegiate level competitions, or “shows,” riders receive mounts they have never seen before and are expected to perform specific maneuvers according to skill level. Some riders must “walk, trot and canter,” others must jump obstacles. In awarding points, the judges focus on the control and ease with which the riders handle their mounts. “You don’t get to warm up, you hop on your horse and get in front of the judge,” Cecelski said. “They give you a pamphlet with two sentences about each horse. I just got six words. There are reputations of horses on the circuit, and there’s always the one horse that no one wants to ride.”
Shows allegedly see a lot of shenanigans. Sponsors often offer teams merchandise to wear in exchange for money. For example, the Williams team was offered various forms of underwear at the first meet of the season. “There were athletic thongs, boy-girl thongs and athletic briefs; all these types of underwear for boys and girls,” Schulman said. “Boy-girl thongs! How are you not laughing?”
The horses themselves sometimes cause another type of “issue” during shows. “It’s always funny when your horse decides to poop in the middle of the show,” Lei said. “They can’t go when they’re moving, so they just stop. It sucks because it really messes up your routine!”
While horseback riding is an inherently individual, isolated sport, the all-women’s team appreciates the camaraderie they share with one another, particularly on the car rides to the barn. What do equestrian girls talk about? “Horse people just love talking about horses,” Kendall Follert ’13 said. “It’s nice to know there’s a group of horse dorks out there who you can talk to about stuff nobody else would ever understand.”
The personality of the equestrian team extends beyond the riders to the horses, each of which is individually recognizable. Bosco, for instance, is universally beloved. In addition to being considered “a cutie,” “adorable,” and “my BFF,” by various riders, he has made considerable improvements as a mount. Lance, on the other hand, is a “brat” who once took it upon himself to bite the neck of the girl tending to him. She walked away with no lasting wounds, save a giant hickey. “No one likes Lance,” Cecelski said.
For the equestrian team, the challenges faced by the rider in controlling the mount are valuable because they ultimately result in a rewarding connection, almost like a chemical release, therapy for the mind and soul. “The best thing for me about the equestrian team is that I get to leave campus,” Follert said. “There’s so much other stuff you actually have to concentrate on in your life, and here you’re just completely immersed in this other activity. I do it mostly for the fact that I get to have horses, and get to have that release.”

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One comment

  1. I had to comment on this article as a young male rider who has experience of this,
    ” Sponsors often offer teams merchandise to wear in exchange for money. For example, the Williams team was offered various forms of underwear at the first meet of the season. “There were athletic thongs, boy-girl thongs and athletic briefs; all these types of underwear for boys and girls,” Schulman said. “Boy-girl thongs! How are you not laughing?””
    These were either the Equi-thong or the Equetech thong – I can say that I find wearing these kind of panties is really essential for riding safely and since my first instructor insisted that i wear an equithong under my jods i have not looked back. It is no laughing matter as wearing nothing is not an option and nothing else is giving any support. I tried wearing UnderArmour thong/panties for riding they were comfortable but lacked support whereas the Moving Comfort panties are better for horseriding and they do a unisex thong. Yes the lines from my thong panties will sometimes show through my jods but that is inevitable, the girls i ride with are cool with that – it is pretty obvious what a guy is wearing under black leggings if there is a white waistband poking out from the top! Having dated a number of female riders none have even commented to me about it – it must have been obvious to them as i am sure they would have felt with their hands the t-bar of the thong through the back of my leggings. Frankly It makes more sense for guys who ride to wear thongs than even the girls so please do not knock it – it is about having the ‘balls’ as a guy to ride safely. And seriously most girls i ride with are not talking to me differently when they know I am wearing a thong underneath jods – to say the opposite is just disrepectful to them. Keep it up!

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