Getting back in the saddle
The Equestrian team has had around 40 people try out for the team in the past. // Photo courtesy of Kylee Moneypenny
By Nikki Zieche
The Western Equestrians is a student-led sports club that combines sports, competition and a love of horses to enjoy the equestrian experience, according to its website.
The team operates through Western’s sports club program, which makes it possible to have a variety of student-run teams that are not varsity sports in Western’s athletic department.
Western gives the equestrian teams a small amount of money, but most of the team account is funded by quarterly team dues, fundraising and donations.
Both Western style and English style equitation are included in the program to accommodate different riding styles.
Co-president of the Western team Rachael Beebe said between 15 and 20 people try out for the Western team, and the others try out for the English team.
“I don’t know the exact number, but we probably have about 15 people try out from the 40 or so that sign up,” Beebe said.
Beebe has been a member of the team for two years and will be leaving this year when she graduates.
Before trying out for the team, each student must make an account with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and attend a Western Equestrians team meeting.
The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association is a national organization made of 37 regions and eight zones across the country. There are over 500 colleges represented by more than 9,000 riders, according to the team website.
The Western style teams belong to Zone 8, which includes teams from Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and many more surrounding states, along with British Columbia.
Kylee Moneypenny, co-president of the English team, said the tryout process takes time and is very detailed.
“You need to fill out this big questionnaire online,” Moneypenny said. “You need to take your time and put it in correctly or you get screwed over with the results.”
This was Moneypenny’s first and last year with the team as she is graduating this year.
The results of the questionnaire are sent to the coaches and presidents of the teams at tryouts, where they assess each person’s riding level based on their questionnaire answers and their visible competitive riding abilities on a foreign horse.
Students are placed either in a higher or lower category based on their abilities to ensure they are placed in the best category to succeed.
“We usually cut a lot of the people who come to try out,” Moneypenny said. “We have limited resources and can’t accept everyone who tries out. We just don’t have enough horses.”
Most members of the team don’t own their own horses and lease them from coaches or other outside sources.
After the team is established and the horses needed are found, the training for show season begins.
Show season begins in the fall and continues into the winter, and it’s optional for the teams to ride in the spring. Teams are usually dismantled for summer quarter due to many students going on vacation or returning home.
Suzy Huizenga, a trainer for the English team, has trained the school’s teams at her stable, Twin Maples Farm, for the last three years.
In the early 1980s, Huizenga co-founded the Whatcom County Pony Club and served as district commissioner and an instructor for a number of years, according to her website.
In addition to Western, Huizenga assisted intercollegiate teams from Washington State University and the University of Washington in becoming polished competitors in the show ring.
“I’m very methodical about revisiting the basics with riders who already have a strong start,” Huizenga said. “I make sure they understand the basics of equitation before they move on to bigger jumps.”
Huizenga said she focuses on the understanding of correct positions and applying those positions correctly, as well as basic flatwork to ensure the best performance of the horse.
“I usually leave [Huizenga’s] really tired and sore,” Moneypenny said. “She definitely works us.”
An important part of Huizenga’s training are basic dressage principles that are applied to every aspect of riding.
Huizenga will enlist the help of an assistant this upcoming year to help with the intensity of show season.
“I love it,” Huizenga said. “It’s probably one of the best aspects of what I do.”
Coaches are paid for the use of their horses and facilities. They also provide help networking in the local horse community when it comes time for shows.
As the Western Equestrians are student run, the leadership and decision making comes from the students. Coaches are not involved in any team-related decision making or entering members in shows.
Students are assigned practice times based on their school schedules to ensure they have time to succeed academically.
Being a part of the Western Equestrians requires school enrollment, and students must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA in order to participate in shows and remain on the team.
Most students meet at the stable one to two times a week. Those who ride twice a week pay $275 a quarter, and students who ride once a week pay $150 a quarter. Quarterly dues cover lesson costs and travel fees for shows, according to its website.
Every year, the team invites experienced riders in the area to host clinics for the students to help improve their riding and understand their horses better. Clinics cost between $25 and $40.
“It’s a big time commitment,” Moneypenny said. “Horses take a lot of time.”
As a club sport, students are also responsible for having at least 10 hours of volunteering for the riding season. Volunteering is done locally at places such as the Whatcom Humane Society and Animals for Natural Therapy, according to the team website
The horse shows are orchestrated entirely by the team, so attendance is mandatory. Since shows are hosted by each school, only the host team is responsible for setting up the venue. No other teams or outside assistance is permitted, Moneypenny said.
Because of this, during recruitment, students are made sure to understand if they cannot attend shows, they are not wanted on the team, Beebe explained.
Students are not required to compete, however. Students may choose to opt out of competing but must attend at least two shows. Those with little to no experience still participate in training and events but do not compete.
“I don’t compete. I don’t really like competition,” Beebe said. “I’d rather goof off and have fun.”
The Western riding team and English team seem to mirror the feel of the school. Some of the English riders on the school’s team and those on the Oregon teams are more competitive, but for the most part, the WWU teams are more relaxed and laid back, she said