Oregon club Equestrian quadruples in size, brings home high scores early in season
Two years ago, the University of Oregon club Equestrian team was made up of eight members from both the Western and Hunt Seat classes of competition.
This year, the team has grown to 34 total members and has already exhibited dominant success early in the season.
Over the weekend of Nov. 8, 27 members traveled to the first show of the season in Spokane, Wash. Oregon earned reserve high point in both Hunt Seat (often referred to as English) and Western, putting both teams in second place in Zone 8, Region 4. The Western team went up to Corvallis for a show over the weekend of Nov. 15 and not only celebrated sophomore Brittney Mellor’s high point win, but an overall team high point victory.
Last season two members, graduate Allison Larrson and current sophomore Chiara Ciacci, qualified for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (ISHA) semifinals. Ciacci also had the opportunity to represent Zone 8 Region 4 at Nationals for the Cacchione Cup, a prestigious award honoring the top riders in the nation.
“This program makes you a better rider; I don’t think I’ve ever been as comfortable on a horse as I am now,” said senior Western captain Claire Haines. “ The way we train helps you really get to figure out a horse in a very short amount of time.”
Riders are allowed to watch all of the competing horses warm up, are assigned a horse that has been selected from a blind draw, then given permission to mount their given horse only upon entering the ring.
“It’s a lot of mental stuff, there’s a huge checklist to keep in the back of your mind once you’re on the horse,” said senior team president Ali Levy. “Sometimes when you’re on the unpredictable horses it’s more of survival mode and relying on well-taught natural instincts.
In preparation for shows, each member is required to ride at least once a week. Both teams also schedule two lessons each week with local experienced equestrian trainers, Christy Cruise Leitheiser and Angela White.
“Our coaches have been trainers for a long time and are very talented,” said Levy. “They can see little things that would make us second instead of first. It is a very technical sport, and the slightest inch out of place could cause you not to win.”
Each barn also provides tack and horses for the riders to practice on. This allows members of the team to prepare for the random horses they will be placed on at shows, while simultaneously alleviating some of the financial burden of equestrian competition.
“The horse is one of the most expensive components, and for people that do not have the means to buy a really fancy horse to train with, it is hard to compete with those that do,” Ciacci said. “Training with horses that you don’t have long-term relationships with and randomly selecting the horse (at a show) really levels the playing field for everyone and makes it a challenge.”
With only five seniors on the team, the well-developed younger members will have to take the reigns on the way to the future.
“It’s exciting, because we have such a young team and they’re already winning a lot of the classes they go in,” Ciacci said. “It is going to be amazing to see the progression. We will definitely be one of the most competitive teams in our region at some point.”
Next on the schedule for the Equestrian team is a show they will co-host with Oregon State on Jan. 25 and 26 at Cornerstone Stables in Sherwood, Ore.
Follow Sarah Scrivens on Twitter @sarahescrivens
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