For Katie Avery ’10, it’s not just about the ribbons. It’s about the wind on her face, her hands on the reins, and the feeling riding gives her.
Avery has been riding horses most of her life but never competitively. That all changed when she came to IC and joined the Ithaca College Equestrian Team. “I was still trying to meet people and fit in,” she says. “When I saw the poster for the team, I decided to join not just because I thought it would be a fun thing to try but because riding horses was something that I was familiar with.”
Now the team’s secretary, Avery is one of 27 members of the club, which is affiliated with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). Members take lessons once a week at nearby If Only Farm and compete roughly four times a semester. If you never got that pony you always wanted when you were little, don’t worry. Riders don’t need their own horses. Instead they use the horses at the farm for practice, and during competition each person draws a random horse to ride. “You have to get on a horse you’ve never ridden before and make it perform,” says Avery. “It makes it a real challenge.”
Watch the team at an equestrian competition at Cornell University:
While most members have previous riding experience, people that have never ridden a horse before are also welcome to join and can compete in the beginners’ division. “We are always looking for brand new riders,” says Jules Ellison ’09, treasurer of the team. “There is a division called walk/trot for riders who have fewer than 26 weeks of formal riding instruction.”
Elyse Cohen ’08, former president of the team, has earned a number of individual awards ranging from first to sixth place. “I don’t know the exact count,” she says. “But I can say that after four years I have developed a very colorful collection [of ribbons].”
Riding is an expensive sport. Members must pay for required group lessons as well as private lessons if they choose to take them. Riders must also pay IHSA dues and provide their own riding attire, meals, and gas money for each show, but the College covers the cost of showing. “Riding is a sport that most people associate with wealth,” says Avery. “We are in no way wealthy, so we do what we can to help each other.” To subsidize the expenses for each rider, the team hosts multiple fundraisers each semester.
For the riders, the rewards far outweigh the expenses. “Riding is something to look forward to; something that could take the most stressful day and somehow make it better,” says Cohen. “The equestrian team is my outlet.”
Ellison cites other benefits to being on the team as well. The close-knit group is supportive of more than just each other’s riding, she explains. “Being a part of a team makes you feel so included.”
In fact, Ellison’s favorite memory isn’t of competition or riding lessons. It’s the time her teammates brought her a 50-gallon garbage bag full of romance novels. “I’m a huge romance novel fan, and instead of picking on me and making me feel embarrassed, everyone got really excited.” Almost every member of the team has now read Bold Conquest, a staple at every horse show.
The highlight of the team’s fall show season is their annual trip to the Syracuse Invitational, where some of the best riders go to compete. “There are so many opportunities to learn, plus the opportunity to meet some of the world’s top competitors!” says Ellison.
Avery says she always has a good time when the team is together, and she met Ellison, her best friend, through the team. “I hope to keep riding for the rest of my life, even if it’s not competitively,” she says. It’s easy to see that it isn’t just about the ribbons for Avery and every other member of the team. It’s about the horses, it’s about the people, and most important, it’s about memories made with good friends.
Originally published in Fuse: Horsing Around.