Now that tryouts are over and practice has been underway for a few weeks, the equestrian team is ready to kick off its season. For some riders this will be their first season with the squad, while for others it will be their last. Before the season began, the seniors took some time to reflect on their experience with the Red and discuss their hopes for their final season. Not every rider comes to the team with previous experience. Because the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association divides shows into different levels, or divisions, the squad always looks for riders that come from different backgrounds — from those who rode competitively in high school to ones who have never sat on a horse. The riders with no experience tend to find learning to ride on a competitive team very rewarding. “I came to the team with no riding experience so for me it actually … Gave me the chance I always wanted … To ride horses,” said senior tri-captain Zofia Hilton. “I’ve done so many things that I never thought I would. I got on a horse for the first time. I went to a horse show for the first time. Being on the team has taught me so much. I never expected to go from no experience to being able [to go to] nationals [my sophomore year]. For me that was a big thing because I never expected to get there and learn as much as I did.”Senior Katie Rong also came to the team with no previous experience. However, the squad has become a big part of her life at Cornell. “Equestrian comes first when describing myself,” she said. Outside of college athletics, it is quite unusual for riders to compete in teams. Equestrian is typically an individual sport; the only teamwork involved is the partnership between the horse and the rider. For the riders who do have previous experience, the chance to be part of a team adds a new dimension to the sport and teaches its members many valuable lessons.“I always hated teamwork in classes but then I worked with the whole team and it was really fun getting things done … You learn how to work together,” Rong said. Even for those who have rode all their lives, the experience of being on a collegiate team is completely unique. Senior tri-captain Emily Webster, for example, joined the team with a lot of experience. “The team [has] completely changed my time here at Cornell,” she said. “It’s not something that I knew I wanted to do … I didn’t realize the commitment it was. I’d never been on a sports team. I didn’t realize what I was coming into when I joined. We spend so much time together … we laugh and we cry together … it’s become so much more than the riding. I’ve learned a lot about who I am from being on the team.”For senior tri-captain Emily Kowalchik and senior Erika Hooker, the squad provided them with a group of girls who share their passion for horses. “The team is a great group of girls,” Hooker said. “We cycle through girls every year … But we’re always girls that love riding horses and we’ll wake up at five in the morning for it and I appreciate that.”“I was glad that I was involved with [the team] just because it gave me a group to be a part of right away,” Kowalchik added. “I think my transition as a freshman was made way easier because I was part of the team.”Kowalchik added that the squad has become more and more tight knit over the years.“We’re a closer group of girls than we ever were when we came in as freshmen and I think as seniors we take a lot of pride in that,” she said.As for the upcoming season, the seniors are determined to make this one count. Overall, the riders are confident in the team’s chances of making it all the way to nationals. “I think that this season we have the best shot at nationals that we’ve ever had and that’s really exciting for my senior year,” Hooker said.Although the squad received a new coach this year, it is confident that head coach Todd Karn will only increase the team’s chances of making it to the top. “I don’t want to leave this team … But the team is in good hands,” Webster said. “[Coach Karn’s] past [experience] as a judge is really helping us get to this new level where we can raise our bar even higher and do even better than we have [previously] done. I only see an upward trend for this team in terms of competitiveness.”“I really think we have a chance at nationals,” Rong added. In addition to getting to nationals, some of the riders have their own personal goals for the season. If a rider earns enough points during the show season, she can move up to compete in a higher division. This is one of Rong’s goals for the season, which include “getting to zones and nationals, pretty much pointing out [of my division] and competing in walk trot canter.” Still, the main focus is on nationals.“I think that we have the potential this year to make it to nationals … We have that skill and that determination … I think it’s incredibly possible,” Hilton said. “Personally, I just want to have the best season I’ve ever had.”The first show was a double header held at RIT this past weekend. The Red had a great start to the season. On the first day the team came in third place overall, beaten by Alfred in second and Ithaca College in first. The squad rallied on the second day and finished in first place. Freshman Elizabeth Drake won both of her novice classes on the second day and was the high point rider. Kowalchik earned the ribbon for reserve high point rider with a first and second place in her open division classes. According to Webster, the Red hopes to continue this upward trend.“I don’t have any personal goals for myself but I think as a team we’re so close to making it to nationals and with a little bit of luck and a lot of work I really feel like this could be our year,” she said.
Original Author: Ariel Cooper