Feature Story

TU equestrian team

The horse’s hooves pound into the dirt, kicking up dust as it swiftly runs the length of the arena. Breathless and exhilarated, the rider moves with the horse. Everything painful and exhausting leads up to this moment of freedom, when a rider feels as if there is not a care in the world.

The privilege of being a Taylor equestrian means representing the school well in the arena during competitions. It also provides an excuse to get away from the overload of homework and to strive to grow and connect with horses and fellow equestrians.

“The equestrian team is a great way to get to know the other equestrians on campus, as well as keeping up with riding and showing,” Breanna Bartlett, a past rider on the team, explained.

The Taylor University Equestrian Team (TUET) is more than just fun and games. Student equestrians quickly learn hard work each week as they attend lessons, once or twice depending on how often they choose. The stables, Black Dog Enterprises, sits about 30 minutes from campus.

Maggie Boyle, the team coach, decides beforehand which horse a student will ride, which is a different horse each lesson. Riders gain experience with different sizes and behaviors to prepare for showing. In preparation for a lesson, student riders are required to prepare the horse, brushing it, strapping the saddle to its back and pulling the bridle on over its head.

Competitors devote practice hours to working on position and stamina which are necessary skills during shows and can be physically and emotionally intense. After an hour-long lesson, riders remove the tack from their horses, brush them over again and clean the tack.

Kayla Abbott, a present equestrian, loves that she has been able to learn new skills and improve her riding ability. She grew up riding English style and has since learned how to jump.

Shows take place at either Taylor University or St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute. The night before a home show, the team works at the barn cleaning until it is spotless. They run cloths over all the stall doors and bars collecting dirt and dust, sweep the floors clean, polish the jumps and position them correctly. Boyle inspects the tack thoroughly to make sure all is immaculate. Before finishing, students lay out the ribbons and prizes to make sure all are ready for the next day. Everyone pitches in to ensure quality and cleanliness.

Anna Wolford, another present equestrian, suggests getting a good night’s rest before a show. She knows it is difficult with excitement churning inside, but she tries hard to get as much sleep as she can because of how much energy each show requires.

“Shows mean two early mornings and two long, emotionally draining days back-to-back,” Wolford said.

After the barn is in top shape, the riders prepare themselves. Each one must look the part of an English rider, wearing tall boots, tan breeches, a black belt, a show shirt with a collar, a hunt coat, a hair net and a helmet. Boyle requires students to look professional to keep the barn’s great reputation.

During shows, riders do not know which mount they will receive or the time of their event. Equestrians draw sticks out of a bucket: one stick shows the time of their performance and the other tells which horse they get to ride.

Haley Mrstik, president of the equestrian team, explained, “You never know who you’re going to be riding until about 10 minutes before you show. It’s a little crazy but pretty fun at the same time.”

On top of the hard work, being an equestrian is expensive. Riders pay for their own equipment such as breeches, boots, shows fees and lesson costs. For shows, though, the barn has a small selection of equipment that can be borrowed such as breeches, show coats and boots. Taylor provides a small amount of funds, which cover the cost of one hotel stay for one show. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), which all Taylor equestrians must join, require dues each year in order to compete in shows.

According to its website, “IHSA provides collegiate riders of all skills the opportunity to compete individually and as teams in equestrian competition. It was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of his or her riding ability or financial status.”

Through hard work and determination, riders have the opportunity to learn together and gain friendship through the team.

“I have most loved being able to get to know all the amazing girls on my team,” Wolford said. “They are all such wonderful people, and in most cases, without TUET, I never would have gotten the opportunity to know them.”