Imagine competing in a club sport where you meet your only teammate for the first time right before the competition begins. You’re not allowed to practice together beforehand and the equipment you use is new to you.
This may sound like an unreasonable challenge, but it’s designed to create a fair competition. Just ask juniors Kelly Meyer and Lauren DeGeorge, members of CU-Boulder’s equestrian team, who compete in intercollegiate English and Western riding competitions, where they are judged on skill and ability.
Both joined the co-ed team as freshmen and knew how to ride, although neither had ridden horses competitively before joining.
“The goal of this club sport is to make riding available to anybody that wants to ride in college,” said DeGeorge, vice president of the riding team, who is majoring in environmental studies and evolutionary biology. “The first time I competed I was terrified. I had taken four lessons before my first show. I had to borrow show clothes to wear and the boots were way too big for me. But I wound up getting third place. It was so exciting.”
The equestrian team features two types of riding, English and Western riding, which are different in style and saddle type. The 40 members of the equestrian team train with coaches at two farms: one in Boulder County and one in Weld County. Horses for lessons are available at the farms for team members to ride.
Established in 1995, the student-run equestrian team at CU-Boulder competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, the national organization that sets the rules of competition.
At the competitions, horses and riders are assigned randomly and have only a brief preparation time, hence the lack of practice in advance with their equine “teammates.” Riders are judged by how well they control their horse, their ability to adapt to the horse, and on their equitation or form in the saddle. English riders can also compete in jumping horses over hurdles and Western riders at the highest division can compete in reining.
The CU-Boulder English team took 8th place at nationals in 2012, competing against more than 350 other teams nationwide. It was only the second year the team had qualified for nationals. No small feat considering they are pitted against schools with larger programs.
As a club sport, the equestrian team receives some university funding. To supplement what CU provides, team members pay dues, hold fundraisers and receive donations from the community.
Meyer, team president, who is majoring in biology, came to the sport after working as a trail guide at a riding barn in Pennsylvania during high school.
“I love riding horses as a team sport,” said Meyer. “You’re not showing horses alone. You’re part of a team where everyone is cheering for you and want you to succeed.”
Co-ed riders of all skill levels are welcome.