Staff writer Caitlin Stanton sat down with Cornell equestrian junior Vaughan Shanley to talk about everything from her pre-riding rituals to her love of baking.
This transcript has been modified for clarity.
1.How did you get your first taste of equestrian?
It was when I was six years old: my family went on a trail ride and I absolutely loved horses. I was obsessed, and so I begged my parents to go on another trail ride and then I started taking lessons in Cincinnati, where I’m from. My first pony’s name was Marshmallow and I had him when I was eight, and so I grew up riding him and showing him. And then I had Chloe, and then I had Elliot, and then, my last horse was Owen, who I actually donated to Cornell so he’s here with me now.
That’s so precious!
He’s on the team, too, which is nice, but yeah, I’ve been riding since I was six. It’s sort of been a part of my life forever.
I really like how you remember all of your horses’ names, too!
Yeah, those are just the ones I’ve had for the longest. I had a couple other ones that I leased for a few months.
Was each horse like a phase of your life?
You do different divisions in riding, too, so it’s like I grew physically so I needed a bigger horse and then I started jumping bigger, so yeah, definitely.
2. Can you tell me about placing in the top ten of Ohio State divisions?
I would ride five to six days a week, always with my trainer. I had the same trainer since I had Marshmallow, so most of my life. And then competing: I would compete mostly in Ohio, and then a few shows around Tennessee and St. Louis. We went to Florida one year, but we mostly stay around the Midwest area.
It was definitely hard. In high school, I missed a lot of school to travel on the weekends, just because the shows are meant for not just students so you have some of the competitions during the weeks, so that was tough to balance.
3. How were you able to balance all of your extracurriculars in high school, in addition to riding?
I think because I rode for so long it was always a part of my life that I had to factor in. I had my eight hours of school, and then my two or three hours riding every day, so it was just part of my day. I didn’t really have to think ‘Oh I have to make time for that’ because it was part of my everyday. And most of the things I did, I really enjoyed, so I think that made it easier to balance.
4. How did it feel to transition from high school equestrian to Ivy League level varsity equestrian?
It’s so different! In high school I had Owen. I had my own horse the whole time, so you have this really strong relationship and you’re always working on things together. And then, in college, it’s different because we compete in the IHSA, so you ride different horses in every competition, so having to adjust to a different horse every ride has made me a better rider. I’m not jumping as high anymore, but it’s made me a lot more understanding of horses and how they respond differently to how you’re feeling, how you’re acting on their back.
It was definitely a tough transition but I’ve always been such an animal person and have had such a relationship with my horses that it made it easier for me to know that there’s that element of trust that you have to always have, even with a horse you’ve never ridden before.
When you go back to Owen, does he remember you?
I think so, I hope so! So he’s turning thirteen on Valentine’s Day and I’ve had him since he was six, so he’s my baby.
5. Do you have any pre-riding rituals or superstitions?
We wear hair nets when we ride, and I’ve had the same hairnet for four years now, which is gross because it has a hole in it and it’s really stretched out. And then, my mom does needlepoint, and she made me a belt. I always wear that, and it has my dog, my high school on it, Owen on it — so I always have to wear that.
6. I saw you’re from Cincinnati — what’s the biggest difference between Cincinnati and Ithaca?
Overall atmosphere, it’s different being in the Northeast because obviously the Midwest is full of nice people, very boring people, you know, it’s like a different mentality. I was actually born in Hawaii and I’ve grown up going back there. We still have a house there, so I think I was exposed to a lot of different cultures. I’m not just a boring Midwesterner, I don’t think I am (laughs).
In terms of riding, it’s kind of the same. We have to take care of our horses and have chore time, so it’s a lot more work on that end, but I think riding is the same throughout your whole life and everywhere you go, which is such a nice, consistent thing to have. It especially made it a lot easier transitioning to Cornell in general just because it was something I grew up doing, something I did everyday and now I get to do it here.
You said you were originally from Hawaii — did you ride in Hawaii?
I did when I was younger. They don’t really have the same show circuit or anything. They actually have a really good polo team out there.
7. Do you have a role model?
This might be cheesy, but Sheryl Sandberg is such as powerful woman and I think she’s just changed society’s expectations of women and perspective. I’m in the Dyson School, so like having that type of person to look up to, especially recently when it’s so important for women to stand up for one another and to really empower one another.
8. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from freshman year to now?
I think probably not sweating the small stuff as much: academically, socially, everything. You have to focus on what’s really going to matter in the future and maintaining balance, because it’s so easy to get swept up in every little thing here and get really stressed out. I think having your priorities set and being able to not get worked up over little things that might not matter.
And missing one iClicker is not a big deal (laughs).
9. What do you do for fun on or off campus?
I like to bake. I always bring it to my guy friends because they eat a lot, fast. I like to do group exercise classes: I like yoga and that kind of stuff. Other than that, I’m involved in Phi Gamma Nu, which isn’t really fun but we’re going to Vegas for it!
10. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Either Dubai or southeast Asia. My brother’s been to China a few times and I feel like a lot of my friends are going to Thailand right now, and the food sounds so good. And experiencing the different culture and seeing all of the sights I think is so different. Dubai would be interesting because it’s so modern but in a way the society is a lot different than ours, so I think that would be interesting to see and experience.