By Rachel Feringa
Eight years ago, I began my competitive riding career with my coach's Polish Arabian, Andy. We attended shows hosted by numerous organizations, such as the West Michigan Arabian Horse Association, English Western Horse Association, Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association, and 4H. Andy was the best partner a girl could ask for, and I can honestly say I learned more from him than from any other horse I've ridden. He definitely was the reason I fell in love with the breed.
Then, four years in, something life-changing happened: I graduated high school and enrolled in college. I chose to attend a college close to home so I could keep riding Andy, but making that transition and adjusting to college life while trying to spend as much time with Andy as I had previously was really tough. I remember feeling broken-hearted yet resigned when I decided that I would have to stop riding while I was in school.
Sound familiar to anyone? Well, I ended up transferring to Central Michigan University, where I decided I would do a lot more research on different sports and extracurriculars so I could be more involved. Previously, I had been vaguely aware that some schools had equestrian teams, but once I learned more about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) I decided to try riding again in college. For the past couple years now I have competed with CMU's equestrian team, and I have continued to learn a lot! There are many things to adjust to when transitioning to college riding, especially if it's through IHSA, but it is a positive change. To me, the biggest change was having to adapt to constantly changing horses. In competition, a rider draws the name of his or her horse shortly before their class, mounts during the class before, and picks up the reins once the groom leads them into the arena. By doing this, the field is judged more fairly on their equitation and not on the horsemanship of their temporary partner in the ring. Before IHSA, I was definitely a "one-horse rider" and unaccustomed to changing horses. Now, I feel comfortable with almost any horse and am much smarter about how I adapt and listen to each different ride. This is the greatest asset I have gained from collegiate competition to date.
One of the easiest transitions involved my equipment and financial situation. Since I had experience showing previously, I already had numerous show clothes - everything I needed to continue in college. It wasn't necessary to purchase anything else. Also, since it's no secret that college is a drain financially, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that competing in college is generally not as expensive as competing independently at shows of similar caliber. It varies from school to school, especially if the team is varsity or not, but the fact that each rider is only responsible for his or her own expenses (and not a horse's) makes a huge difference. Finally, college riding gives you a team. Riding is generally an independent sport, so the college experience is fairly unique. Not only have I gotten to continue practicing the sport I love, I have also gained friends at college with similar interests. It really helped me to find my niche at school. The experiences I have had in college have only excited me to reenter the horse world independently after graduation. In time, I plan to purchase a couple new partners for myself. I've always wanted to stay involved with the Arabian breed, but I am also looking into adopting an OTTB (off-track Thoroughbred) after working with so many of them at school. So whenever anyone asks me if I recommend riding in college, I will always answer yes. It is so imperative never to give up on something that is truly important to you and it helps you maintain your sense of self in a time when everything around you is changing. CMU's team website: http://www.freewebs.com/cmuet/
About the Author
Rachel Feringa is a current Central Michigan University student who found us through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's Facebook page.
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