October 3, 2011

EQUESTRIAN | Riders Discuss Transition to IHSA

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Horseback riding is truly an international sport — a sport that transcends both continental and cultural boundaries. Before the invention of the gas-guzzling automobile, horses were the primary vehicle of transportation in civilizations across the globe; from an ancient warrior’s noble steed to the simple carriage horse. Today horses are ridden primarily for pleasure and most riding disciplines — such as show jumping and dressage — are practiced in multiple countries. Still, horseback riding is not the same everywhere. Cornell’s equestrian team includes five international riders this season, and each one has needed to adapt not only to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s competitions, but to the American riding style as well.

For freshman Madeleine Breen, horseback riding is something that she has loved since a young age. As is the case with many childhood horse-lovers, there is no specific reason behind her passion.

“I just suddenly one day just woke up and I was just crazy about horses,” she said.

Breen, who hails from London, England, began riding at the age of six. She owned a horse for two years and competed primarily in eventing — a type of competition that consists of show jumping, dressage and cross country phases. England, with its sprawling green countryside and long history of fox-hunting, is very enthusiastic about horseback riding. Although Breen was already experienced when she joined the Red, she noticed differences between the European and American approaches to riding. One of the major differences is the rider’s position. Rather than moving with the horse, American riders are taught to have a more fixed position, according to Breen.

“The position in the saddle is different, definitely,” she said.

French teammate sophomore Alizee Touchot found similar differences between American and European riding. Touchot lived in London for nine years, but spent all of her summers in France, where she rode at the same barn for 11 years. The senior competed in show jumping, the discipline most similar to the jumping levels in the ISHA competitions. According to Touchot, European shows put more emphasis on the horse than the rider — the rider’s job is to harness the horse’s power and release it at just the right moment in order to clear the fence, but he or she does not have to look pretty doing it.

“[It’s about] going quick rather than being presentable,” Touchot explained.

This is quite different from the performances expected of ISHA riders.

“You have to work more on yourself than on the actual horse,” she said.

“It’s difficult to think about,” Breen added.

Even two riders from the same country can have completely different riding experiences. Senior Browyn Scrivens and junior Zofia Hilton both hail from Canada, but their riding backgrounds could not be more different. Scrivens is a native of Alberta, which she referred to as “the Texas of Canada.” Although Alberta, like Texas, is very into western riding, the province also boasts excellent show jumping facilities, according to Scrivens. The senior has owned several horses and ridden five days a week since grade six or seven. After owning horses for so long, competing on random horses in the ISHA shows was a big change for Scrivens.

“Having your own horse, you build up a connection with them … they know what you’re asking them to do,” she said.

Hilton, however, joined the Red without any riding experience.

“My first time on a horse was actually at tryouts here at Cornell,” she recalled.

Hiltion hails from Ontario, Canada, and horseback riding is not as popular there as it is in Alberta. She always loved horses, but before joining the Red had been focused on a different hobby — gymnastics.

“Back home I was heavily involved in gymnastics … I never actually had the opportunity to do both,” she said.

After volunteer work at a therapeutic stable solidified her love of horses, Hilton joined Cornell’s equestrian team and has since learned a lot about riding. She now rides at the beginner walk, trot, canter level.

Senior Charmaine Tan of Singapore also came to the team with little riding experience. Tan always wanted to ride, but Singapore’s attitude toward horses and riding makes it very difficult for most people to pursue the sport. The prices and exclusivity of riding programs in her country make it hard to become a more advanced rider, according to Tan.

“You have to pay exorbitant fees and join the stable before they let you take a higher level,” she said. “People are terrified of horses and the damage they can do. It’s a very different culture in that sense.”

Due to such complications, Tan rode mostly while overseas in countries such as Australia. Upon arriving at Cornell, Tan was pleased to see that not every country shares Singapore’s opinion on riding.

“It’s a real change to come here and see how seriously riding is taken,” she said.

Original Author: Ariel Cooper