The Ins & Outs Of NCAA Teams

By Kathy Keeley

There are two choices if you want to ride on a college team in a formal program: NCAA varsity equestrian and IHSA collegiate teams. Many parents think the two are synonymous when in fact they are very different – from scholarships and show formats to athletic benefits.

While there are hundreds of club teams, IHSA, there are very few varsity teams – about 20 or so teams at the varsity level. Varsity teams are only allowed 15 total scholarships according to NCAA rules. They work under a budget and do not have unlimited scholarships. This makes it very competitive for a freshman to get a full scholarship.

The NCAA route: Steps to get on a team
Getting on a team has become more and more competitive as interest grows. Due to this it can be challenging for English riders to get on a team, and the challenge is greater if you want to be the one showing on the team.

• Go online and register with NCAA – National Collegiate Athletic Association. You cannot be recruited unless you have registered. You can find more information about this at:
• Make a video showing your riding skills on several different horses, including green ones. One segment can be on your show horse, but the others need to be at various levels of training. Wear britches, polo shirt, and tall boots for the video so you look professional. Demonstrate that you can do lead changes, jump different horses, and perform equitation on different mounts.
Note: With help from friends and the trainer, we videotaped my daughter riding seven horses from green broke to her fancy show horse.
• Write a resume of your riding experience starting with most recent. List your major wins including championships, blue ribbons, and riding experience. Include the resume with your videotape.
• Go on recruitment trips to 1-2 schools. Make an appointment with the coach, go on the admissions tour, and watch the team at a lesson or competition. Spend a couple of days getting a feel for the campus. Be prepared to answer the questions of why you want to be on their team and what you would contribute to the team.
• Follow-up and email the coaches. Keep them posted on any show success during your senior year. Some coaches receive over 200 videotapes, so communication is important. Most teams are put together in January and February, so have a plan B if you are not accepted on the team.

• Keep an open mind and look at several schools. Your chances of acceptance increase the more schools you are willing to consider.

3 important things to consider if you want to be on an NCAA team:
1. Early workouts: Girls are required under NCAA rules to work out in the weight room or training center three days a week, often at 6 a.m. You jog, lift weights, and use the exercise machines while working with a trainer assigned to your sport. Attendance is mandatory.
2. You work for your coach, not the reverse, as you may be used to if you show on the circuit. The coach is in charge. Team members do most of the work with the horses, from bathing, grooming, and braiding, to exercising the horses. There are no moms or grooms to assist.
3. Teams can be up to 50 -100 girls: Only four or five girls actually show in a competition from each team, which means that the majority of the team will be benchwarmers at the events.

My daughter’s story
My daughter chose to take the NCAA varsity team route. She liked that she was treated as a full college athlete with all of the privileges that male athletes receive, like tutors and advisors, study hall, community service, and early morning weight training. Other perks include early class registration, book pick up, and access to an athletic center with trainers.

Days are very busy, starting at 6:00 a.m. with weight training, classes, riding, team meetings, training room visits for massages, more classes, and then returning home to study at 5 pm. Her riding skills and confidence have grown significantly as she has learned to ride an unfamiliar horse with a three-minute warm-up and then ride an equitation course. I’ve watched her gradual transition from show rider to athlete and team member – a transition that required her to change her mindset, but it has paid off. She loves wearing her letter jacket and hanging out with the football and baseball teams—an athletic perk. She has found a place that’s not all females, another definite perk in her mind.

If you want to think ahead and prepare to get on a team, then here’s what we recommend:
Focus on equitation, get experience riding lots of different horses, and show in different places. Showing at the college level is all about equitation, so training in equitation as opposed to just the hunter or jumper rings is key. Years of riding experience helps, especially at a competitive level, which prepares you for handling the nerves, excitement and competition in different venues. Coaches may prefer riders who have some experience in other types of team sports and athletics because they understand team dynamics, athletics, and competition, whereas the show arena is an individual sport. Keep good records of your show history.

We have learned a lot by participating in the sport through the NCAA program. An entirely new perspective from the ‘A’ show circuit, varsity riding is not for everyone.

Think and look carefully about the fit for your competitive and collegiate goals. Web sites for more information:

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Working With Your School

By Kathy Keeley

One of the challenges for many horse show moms is working with your rider’s school. As riders get more involved in this sport, it often means more and more missed days of school in order to practice, travel and compete in horse shows. It is up to the parents and the rider to manage school attendance, grades and workload in order to make it all work successfully.

Meg Keeley manages to balance school
and showing. Pictured here competing
on Black Tie Affair at HITS Arizona.

Horse show families have a number of options that range from home schooling to private schools to finding public schools that will be supportive. With the exception of home schooling which gives you complete control over school and horse showing, parents find themselves having to work through the school issues every semester. Parents take on the role of informing, managing and sometimes begging for school administration and teachers to understand what this sport requires. Some schools have competitive horse show leagues which makes the job so much easier but these are few and far between. More likely you are left on a teacher by teacher basis to explain and negotiate for the time off to compete in horse shows.

For many riders, horse showing adds an element of stress to their academic lives and creates time management skills that would wow most corporate managers. It also impacts their social lives with missed dances, events and school parties on those weekends when they are away showing. We fit in the prom two years in a row dressing at the horse show with a crew of people helping with hair and makeup at the motel, a long drive to the dance and an early night to be ready for 8 am classes the next morning!

Home Schooling

Show parents have several options. Some people decide that the level of talent, commitment and goals are such that home schooling is the only option. Home schooling provides flexibility for the rider and a way to compete while mandating course curriculum without physical class attendance. It takes good cooperation between parent and child and a certain type of student to benefit.

Private School

Others search for the private school that will work with you to manage the missed classes or allow you to skip gym classes for an early dismissal each day to ride and to qualify your horse showing as your sport. We got my daughter’s school to count her riding as a sport and she received gym credit for high school. I wrote a long memo to the headmaster providing information on the sport, practice requirements, national championship goals, riding apparel as the uniform and the various rules within horse showing. The credit gave her either a study hall or the last class period of the day to leave for a lesson.

Public School

A third option is to work with your current school to manage days off for your show schedule in order to minimize total missed days. Some administrators can refuse to recognize horse shows for excused absences so the rider has to calculate each missed day very carefully to avoid penalties. It takes planning your show schedule and working with the trainer and rider to manage expectations related to showing.

ShowMom Tips:


Communication with the administration and the individual teachers is very important. You have to do both every year and cannot expect administration to speak for the teachers. Build your case by putting together your information on the overall sport, time commitments, show goals, the full schedule, the benefits of showing and other information that might help non-horse show people understand the sport.

Communicate periodically with teachers on two levels. Provide both background information on horse shows and specific information on your child’s schedule and time commitments. As background information, write about results, opportunities, qualifying events and other pointers on horse shows in general. Provide information on your travel time, the hours spent in lessons, packing and general preparation.


I created an email list of teachers each semester and sent out two or three news-related emails on my daughter’s show experience with some personal stories. I provided background information on a show – how many exhibitors, how many classes my daughter showed in, ribbons and points if we were chasing points for Indoors and other tidbits like the long days, the number of practice sessions and whatever else gave them a flavor for the experience. The newsletters were three or four paragraphs – short but informative. I also sent quick thank-you notes describing a great show or a very challenging weekend.

Set a Precedent with Teacher-Student

Find allies in administration, school counselors, or other teachers to help balance those teachers who will not be supportive. There were always times my daughter would come home in tears because of a teacher’s remarks or denial of a delayed or early test request. She had to learn to communicate the importance of her riding goals and learn to manage difficult teachers and situations. School took precedence and she maintained a near 4.0 average all through high school as her part of the bargain. Her work ethic and grades helped sway many teachers.

Set realistic goals for the semester that will depend on the school schedule, the academic course work, and the number of missed days safely allowed. Being realistic and managing the schedule takes coordination with the trainer and some logistical management on your part. It takes a plan that the rider can understand and support with a smile rather than resentment. Loading up on shows during school breaks and during the summer helps manage the schedule. It is important to pick shows that avoid the times around finals and midterms.

Our role as parents is to keep a perspective on horse showing to balance out the time commitments. We don’t want to increase the stress during high school and should try to maintain a schedule that supports whatever family values and expectations they have concerning education and academic performance.

Good luck and remember to be a savvy show mom!

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