NCAA Equestrian Teams

By Marcia Hester

It seems like yesterday that I was watching my daughter Lauren with pigtails and ribbons canter around the pony ring at horse shows across the country. Of course, the ponies lead to children’s hunters, which lead to junior hunters. Next on the agenda is equitation, a discipline which requires a special horse. Equitation is the backbone for jumpers and suddenly Lauren was a junior in high school and preparing for SAT and ACT tests. I am sure many of you have experienced this same transition. A question my husband and I often asked was: where does this lead our young daughter? There are many different answers to this question. NCAA Equestrian teams are among the answers. Lauren signed up in the NCAA clearing house so that her high school transcripts and testing would all be sent to the NCAA for eligibility. This is one of the simplest steps of the process. Lauren thought that a being part of an equestrian team might be an interesting way to attend college. She had listed universities that had teams in one column and others without teams in another. Lauren thought she would wait and see what the future would bring. We were delighted to hear from several schools who were interested in her as a potential team member.

The recruiting process is very exciting. The team coach invites the rider to attend a special weekend at the school. The university provides plane fare, hotel costs and transportation. It is an opportunity to tour the campus and talk to academic advisors, athletic trainers, attend a special athletic event and meet other potential team members. It can be a bit hectic working all this into an already full schedule of school, horse shows, and extracurricular activities. Lauren, however, somehow managed to find more hours in every day.

Lauren visited Southern Methodist University in Dallas when she was a freshman in high school. Her sister, Hilary, was applying to colleges and wanted to see the school. Early on Lauren felt SMU was her university of choice. She was even more enthused when SMU offered her a full athletic scholarship. Lauren’s orientation was stimulating and informative. We learned that there are many wonderful benefits available to a student athlete. The athletes have special tutoring, priority scheduling for classes, books, tuition, medical care and sports training, and also a built-in network of friends.

Most of the girls who compete in college sports have learned great time management skills. Lauren was accustomed to managing school, riding, volunteer work and competitions, so adding college classes, study, team workouts and practice was not a burden. She felt prepared for this. The team concept was one of the most rewarding parts of her experience. In NCAA competition, 3-6 riders compete head to head with 3-6 riders from an opposing school. The riders each draw a horse and then the other team draws its horses. They ride the same horse over the same course. An equivalent process holds true for the individual flat pattern that each must perform. The team usually travels with 4-6 riders for fences and 4-6 riders for the flat. The same rider may ride in both flat and fences. This is up to the coach’s judgment.

The horses are often challenging and the riders are only given 4 minutes and 4 jumps for a warm up. We have seen a few very wild rides! There aren’t too many advantages for either team except that the home team usually owns the horses, so they are familiar with individual animals. SMU’s team, under the direction of its wonderful new coach Ashley Schaefer, is now ready to become competitive in the conference. Steve Orsini is the new director of Athletics at SMU and is 100% behind the team. Currently, SMU is examining the introduction of new horses for their program. The riding program has recently moved to a beautiful new facility just 10 minutes from campus. SMU is welcoming seven new recruits, four from the west coast: Mallory Olson, Jennifer Weeks, Jordan Petersen and Lauren Michaels; and three from the east: Emily Gardner, Lauren Needham and Claire Wenholz. Coach Ashley Shaefer was at Showpark this past weekend in order to see some of her “new girls” in action.

The best part of NCAA competition is being part of a team. Although each rider strives to do well individually, the results of the competition are based on the overall team’s performance. Therefore, it is truly a sport where everyone participates in some way. The girls who aren’t competing on “game day” will have responsibilities such as warming up the horses, tacking and grooming, and of course cheering on their team members. As a group effort, team riding can provide an experience with a very different emphasis from the individual intensity of our local and national horse shows.

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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