During my first 8 weeks of living in Miami, I’ve been able to take advantage of some wonderful opportunities at the school. One that I was most excited about was the equestrian team. Although I have never owned a horse, I have spent the last 10 years of my life taking lesson and leasing. During this time I have been trained in jumping, hunter, and some dressage. Despite reaching a high level of riding, I have never competed. There was always something preventing me from doing that.
My first 2.5 years of college were not spent at the University of Miami. My prior school had a myriad of equine clubs, including some riding teams. The only problem was that I needed my own horse in order to participate. As you can imagine, that’s quite an expensive purchase to be involved in a club. Because of this, I was never able to participate in a school riding team and had to find riding outlets and continue my training elsewhere. Then I transferred to the University of Miami.
The University of Miami is so unique in that their equestrian club is partnered with a local barn and trainer, which serve as the provider of horses and a coach for our team. I was thrilled to know that I did not need a horse in order to participate. This also meant I could compete, which was a whole other endeavor for me. I didn’t really know what I was in for. I certainly didn’t realize how different it would be, these differences have actually provided me with some unique riding skills and experiences I may not have gotten very often.
The University of Miami Equestrian team runs through the IHSA: Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The team competes in equitation classes; classes which are judging solely the rider. This is the biggest difference from my prior training. Of course one has to have good position to ride a horse well, but my training has been all about how to make the horse move a certain way. Almost all other equestrian disciplines are really judging the horse, the way the animal carries itself and moves, not the rider. Suddenly it was all about me. This meant breaking some horse-training habits and feeling like I need to keep the horse collected, underneath themselves, and in a correct frame. This presented me with my first new skill: truly correct hunter equitation. Through my required weekly lessons with our coach and watching the other competitors at shows, I have begun to learn how correct equitation looks and feels. Having a truly correct baseline of position will allow me to successfully ride more hunter type horses and even teach other riders correct position. From this baseline position, we can tweak our methods to get horses to perform the way we want them to in other disciplines. After 10 years of riding, equitation was not something I thought about often. Reinforcing this baseline position brings my own equitation flaws back to the surface, allowing me to focus on and correct them to become a better and more stable rider.
The second skill or experience that I am gaining from being involved in this club is the opportunity and ability to ride many unknown horses. Each show provides horses for all the riders. This means that when the club travels to a show hosted by another school, none of us have ever ridden these horses. You get to the show, wait for your class to go, get on and ride. No preparation, no warnings, no practice. It is a very unique way of showing, but is one that I find to be very entertaining and useful. Despite how scary it might sound, it is really quite fun to ride a bunch of horses you’ve never ridden before. We grow and improve through new experiences, and this method of showing keeps us all on our toes and forces us to be very attentive to the horse. These experiences are where we really put all our training to use. Being able to canter around the ring with seven other horses and riders or jump a course of 2’6” jumps on a horse you know nothing about takes skill. It takes confidence, and it improves your ability as a rider to adapt to any type of horse, in any situation. That is an invaluable skill that I can carry with me for the rest of my life.