Before September, Sabrina Wassmer had never pet a horse. Her only interaction with horses had been watching them pull carriages in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.
But on Saturday, the sophomore earned a fifth-place ribbon riding in her first horse show, competing alongside the UO Equestrian club’s English team, which specializes in jumping and walk-trot events.
“It was so nerve-wracking just getting on the horse and trying to make sure I am doing everything I can, and I’m doing everything right and not to worry about the other people,” Wassmer said. “It was really fun going with the flow and learning things about equestrian shows.”
Since the 1990s, the UO Equestrian club has helped students like Wassmer find their passion for horseback-riding by turning the often-times individual activity into a team-oriented experience through local competitions.
“The UO Equestrian team is really awesome because usually riding is more of an individual sport — just you and the horse in the ring together,” said Tayler Bicandi, the club’s marketing manager. “But this turns it into a team sport. You’re competing as a team, you’re working as a team and the people helping you get prepared are your teammates.”
Anyone with any level of horseback-riding experience is welcome to join the club. This year, the club’s members include people who have been riding since they were 5, to people who are learning the sport for the first time.
The club is divided into two teams: the Western team and the English team. The two differ by their riding styles. English competitions involve jumping and walk-trot events, while the Western shows involve reining and western horsemanship categories.
No matter which team one is on, all competitions are based on catch-riding.
Catch-riding shows begin with coaches randomly assigning horses and riders the morning of the competition. This riding style separates the good riders from the great ones, as each contestant is judged, and awarded points on not only how well they ride, but how well they can control any given horse.
While this may seem daunting at first, club members say it really helps them become better riders.
“We have to put so much trust into these 1,000-pound animals not to kill us,” Bicandi said. “My first time, I was super nervous. I had no idea what I was getting into. …. But from there, I just got exponentially better and more comfortable to the point where I feel like I can ride any horse now.”
This weekend, the club’s English team opened its season by hosting an Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) Double Hunt Seat Show at the Adnara Equestrian Center in Aurora, Oregon. The team competed against other teams in Zone 8 Region 4 of the IHSA, which includes Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and the University of British Columbia.
The Ducks brought 12 of their 20 members to the show, which English team president Brittany Komlofske believes is the most the team has ever had. The show consists of two events: jumping equitation over fences and flat equitation (walk-trot).
On Saturday, the Ducks earned both the high-point team title and the high-point rider title for the first time in club history. These awards are given out to the team and individual who earns the most points. Oregon also won the reserve high-point rider title during the first day as well. On Sunday, UO received the reserve high-point team title.
“All our hard work paid off,” Komlofske said. “I told everyone it was going to be a lot of work, and I’ve been planning this for like four months. But I am so proud of my team and happy that they put in so much work for us.”