The Sun talked to equestrian senior co-captain Lucia Younger to discuss her personal experiences with the sport and Cornell in general. The transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
The Sun: Tell me a bit about your riding background as a junior equestrian, before Cornell.
Younger: I’m actually from the Ithaca area, and I rode at a local barn called Kelviden Equestrian Center. My trainer, Amy Schwartz, bred and showed Welsh Ponies, so I basically just showed around on the Welsh Pony circuit. I ended up showing one of her horses for a couple of years, and we ended up winning a couple of national titles in the Welsh Pony division.
The Sun: After that, how did you decide that Cornell’s equestrian team was the right fit for you?
Younger: Our process is that everybody on the team tries out. I actually knew head coach Joanna Novakovic ’03 before because she used to do a little bit of training when I was much younger at Kelviden and she is from the area. She said that I should try out and see what happens. We usually hold tryouts during Labor Day weekend, and so basically I tried out my freshman year and I honestly didn’t think I was going to make the team.
I remember I had this horse [during tryouts] named Clifford … and coach Jo told me ‘this is the easiest horse you’ll ever ride,’ and of course I get on and … I totally bomb the last fence, and I was like ‘that’s it for me, it’s not happening,’ but obviously, that wasn’t the case.
The Sun: Talk to me a little bit about a typical practice day at the barn, before COVID:
Younger: Typically, you ride three to four times a week — two of those times are a private, small group lesson, which ranges from three to six people. Then, you have one ride that is your independent ride, or IR, and you just kind of get to work on whatever you want to.
The Sun: On the topic of COVID, how has team life changed due to COVID restrictions, if at all?
Younger: In the barn, things feel pretty normal. At the beginning of the year, we were only allowed to ride in the outdoor [arena], and people were braving the rain and the weird weather. I think people have been really eager to just be able to ride and make the best of it. As a senior, I’m going to be leaving next year, so it’s nice to see that people are still really dedicated to it. It’s been really promising to see people really want to step up and keep doing things.
The Sun: What does a typical competition day look like for the team?
Younger: We both host shows and go to shows out of town. When we’re hosting shows, obviously we’re trying to make sure all of our horses are ready to go and that’s definitely a really long day. Typically, when we go away, it’s a little bit more relaxed — you get to hang out a little more. But when we host shows, it’s pretty much like a full workday of taking care of our horses and making sure that all entries are filled out.
The Sun: Do you guys have any team traditions?
Younger: One of our main traditions takes place at the end of the year — we usually have a senior-run practice, which is usually really fun. We’ll do horse-related activities but also some people-related activities, and we’ll also do three-legged races, where you like polo-wrap. In my freshman year, we also had a capture-the-flag event, and that was a lot of fun.
The Sun: Out of the saddle, what kinds of things does the team do to prepare for competition, in terms of workouts or conditioning?
Younger: We have a trainer who works with us to formulate different workouts, and we usually have team lifts. I had never been in a formal gym setting before, before the team, and so, kind of being able to workout with people who were older and who knew the gym a little bit more was really helpful. Usually, there are two mandatory lifts, mandatory cardio and an additional lift that you can do on your own in the gym.
The Sun: Since you’re a senior, what has been your favorite memory on the team for the past four years?
Younger: I think my favorite memory comes from my sophomore year. I was one of the zone riders for the team, which meant that I stayed in Ithaca for spring break with a bunch of upperclassmen. That was really great because I just got to bond with them the entire week.
I remember coming home from zones one night, and we had all done really well, and I remember this little moment with all of us in this ten-person van just singing along with our coach, which I thought was a very special moment.
The Sun: If you could give advice to an aspiring collegiate equestrian athlete, what would you tell them?
Younger: I would tell them to ride anything and everything that they have available to them. Especially in IHSA, we’re literally drawing horses out of a hat, and we don’t really know that much about them. The more variety you can get in your riding, the better because that’s going to help you in the long run.
The Sun: Lastly, is there anything that you want to add that we haven’t already discussed?
Looking back, the team has been very integral to my time at Cornell. I have made so many good friendships and I literally got a job from somebody I knew from the team. I’m going to be able to have a really great gap-year experience at Hagyard, which is an equine medical institute in Lexington, Kentucky. Equestrian at Cornell is definitely a unique program, but it’s nice to also have a team of 30 plus girls who understand your passions.