By: Stephanie Radloff
“You just sit there.” “The horse does all the work.” “Horseback riding isn’t a sport.” These are statements almost every equestrian athlete has heard at some point in their lives.
“As a serious equestrian, these statements are hard to hear,” said University of Findlay senior IHSA Hunt Seat Team member Peter Patch. “We work extremely hard just like any other athlete and I wish more people realized the hard work that goes into our sport.”
Universities all across the country have equestrian teams or clubs. At the collegiate level, there are two organizations that govern the sport. The NCEA (National Collegiate Equestrian Association, a part of the NCAA) and IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association). The NCEA has 16 Division I teams, five Division II teams, and two Division III teams.
Across the country, over 400 schools are a part of IHSA, which is not broken down into divisions set by the NCAA, but rather by regions and zones as defined by the IHSA committee. Findlay has both a Hunt Seat and a Western team, with 91 varsity athletes (54 on Hunt Seat, 37 on Western), which are a part of the IHSA section.
Athletic Director, Brandi Laurita says that Findlay chose to remain part of IHSA due to female only restrictions in the NCEA teams and that with IHSA the structure of the association allows for more diversity in the skill level of the riders. This gives more people a chance to compete.
At UF, the two IHSA teams (Western and Hunt Seat) are considered varsity sports and recognized by athletics. Both teams officially joined the athletics family in 2001 and have been a part of it ever since. The teams became part of athletics to help benefit both the athletic department and the teams themselves.
“There’s a lot of value for the equestrians in getting the publicity and being a part of something bigger. They can recruit a little bit better because of that since they are a part of varsity athletics,” said Laurita. “For us [athletics], it gives us a wider variety of student athletes. Both teams help get us to 26 varsity sports which is a lot. It also helps us learn a lot about the sport.”
Brandon Morin, a senior on the UF western team, loves the added value of being an athlete at UF.
“We get funding, vehicles to use, they feed us at every show, and pay our fees,” said Morin. “I think that the University of Findlay Athletics most definitely recognizes us as a sport. They provide tons of funding to our IHSA teams and recognize us like any other sport at the school.”
Morin notes that UF athletics is stepping up its game in promoting the equestrian teams.
“Up until this year, our team lacked team photos and head shots of our riders on the athletics website, but this year we got them done!” said Mroin.
Both Patch and Morin say equestrians do not get enough credit over all in the sports world.
“Too many people think we just sit there and don’t do anything when we ride,” said Patch. “But that’s the point! If you can’t see what we’re doing, then we are doing our job. The amount of strength and body control it takes to look like that requires us to be just as strong as any other athlete.”
“Across the nation, I do not think our sport is properly recognized as an athletic event,” said Morin. “I think that trying to explain what we do to other types of athletes is difficult because we cannot really compare it to anything else. It is a very unique sport.”
Both teams have a full schedule this year, with hopes of once again competing at nationals. Last year, both teams qualified after winning regionals and zones (Hunt Seat) and regionals and semi-finals (Western).