UO Club Equestrian

Bigger and better than ever, with its sights set on the national stage

The Hunt Seat and Western teams pose together. (Photo courtesy of Katy George.)

By UO student Lili Wagner

In the past two years, the University of Oregon Club Equestrian team has grown from a scant eight members to a strong thirty-four, and this group of thirty-three women and one man is in pursuit of competition on the national stage.

UO Club Equestrian competes through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which provides riders with a unique experience to learn and grow. The IHSA, which includes more than 400 teams and more than 8,000 riders, promotes egalitarian opportunity in a sport that has historically favored the wealthy. In pursuit of its mission of creating opportunity for riders of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the IHSA has special rules for competition. Rather than bringing a privately-owned horse to the competition, riders arrive at the showground and immediately draw a horse from the lot of community-provided animals. The random horse-rider pairing system demands that riders are judged solely on their ability within the arena, rather than the background and training of their horse. Not only does this level the playing field, it also challenges riders to become well-rounded and fosters a relationship between collegiate teams and their communities.

IHSA features both English and Western styles of riding. English riders can compete in hunt seat equitation, a classic style of riding derived from fox hunting traditions, which includes both categories of both flat and over fences. Western riders can compete in Western horsemanship and reigning. There are different classes ranging from beginner to advanced for each style of riding.

Intermediate rider Haley Cooper takes to the
course. (Photo courtesy of Katy George.)

Katy George, a 2013 graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication, first rode a horse at the age of seven. She began to compete seriously at fifteen, and rode for the equestrian team while a student at the university. Now, thanks to IHSA’s unique policies allowing alumni to continue competing, George remains involved with UO Club Equestrian.

Of IHSA’s provisions on random horse-rider pairing, George said, “The first time I heard of it was when I came to college, because I hadn’t heard of it before that either. I was shocked because it’s terrifying. You have no idea what the horse is going to be like and then suddenly you’re there, totally sleep deprived, at five in the morning and there’s your horse.”

For the hunter-jumper classification in which George participates, a competition usually involves arriving at the showground at 6:30 a.m. Riders immediately draw their horse and then gather in the stands to watch warm-ups. Riders are not allowed to warm up the horse they’ll be riding, and instead scout all of the horses, taking detailed notes on the animals. Before 7:30 a.m., the riders learn which horse they’ll be paired with for the day and by 8:00 a.m. the riders mount their steeds. Their first unfamiliar steps together carry them into the arena. The day usually begins with the highest jump and continues by descending height.

UO Club Equestrian will be hosting its own competition Sunday, January 25, in Portland. Hosting a competition involves rounding up more than thirty horses that community members are willing to lend to the event.

“We have to rely on the community to be willing to lend us horses. It’s one of those things where when it’s going to work well you have to have trust in the community to lend you their horses and then the community has to have trust in the team that you’re going to take care of their horses,” George said.

As the team prepares to host, they are also on the hunt for the coveted top spot in the region, which would carry them to zones. As George explained, the top team from regionals advances to zones and the top two teams from zones advance to nationals. Regions consist of between five and fifteen collegiate teams, and zones consist of between two and five regions. Riders win competitions by earning points, which are based on their place. Places one through six earn an assigned point value, first place earning the most points and so descending.

Right now the team, the school’s first to boast of a rider in each class, is in hot pursuit of Western Washington University, who they trail by fewer than twenty points.

“We’re really well positioned,” George said of the team’s shot at continuing to zones and potentially nationals. “We have a lot of fabulous riders.”

Speaking on the strength of the team, she continued, “They’re kind and they’re really hard working. This has been the group of girls that I’ve seen that’s been the most competitive—in a good way!”

“If we don’t make it to nationals this year I wouldn’t be surprised if we made it next year.”