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Western equestrian club's season set to begin

Western’s first show of the season, hosted by Oregon State University, will take place at the Linn County Expo Center, in Albany, Oregon

Members of the Western equestrian club pose for a photo during their first week of practice at the Creidmont Saddle Club in Bellingham, Wash., on Oct. 17. // Photo courtesy of Emily Kilgore

The Western Washington University Equestrian Club will be traveling to their first show of the 2020-23 season hosted by Oregon State University on Saturday, Nov. 12. 

The club’s first competition was set for Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Spokane Equestrian Center, but co-hosts: Washington State University and the University of British Columbia, had to cancel the show due to a lack of horses. 

Sophie Marchant, Western’s equestrian team president said the club will have at least three shows this season, including their annual home show in February at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden.

When the equestrian club travels for their shows, the host teams provide the horses. Horses used in Western’s home competition are donated from community members, in past years the show has received over 40 horses. 

Riders having to saddle a horse that they have never ridden before poses an additional challenge during competitions. 

“Our coach has a lot of really valuable horses and a lot of horses that can teach you a lot as a rider,” said Emily Kilgore, English team captain. “She's really good in having us hop on a different horse every week and try to feel it out, try to figure out how it works, and how it can best suit us.”

According to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) rules and regulations, in the event that a horse provided performs so poorly that the rider cannot be fairly judged, the coach may request a re-ride. 

“It is pretty common to request a re-ride because horses misbehave or something happens outside of the riders control,” Marchant said 

Western is in zone 8, region 4 of the IHSA, which includes clubs from colleges in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. 

Riders in the IHSA compete in two riding styles: English and Western. According to the Pine Hill Ranch website, English style riders use a smaller saddle, and participate in events such as over fences. Western style riders mount a larger saddle, and compete in events such as horsemanship. 

“Between English and Western, we’re posting a good 35 or so riders, and it’s the biggest we’ve had in a long time,” Kilgore said. “We’re kind of trying to get a comeback after a few dormant years of COVID-19.”

As an organization, the IHSA offers a more affordable opportunity to show horses for over 400 colleges across the country by eliminating the cost of horse ownership. According to its website, a part of the IHSA’s mission is to provide accessible riding options for college students of any experience level, and alumni members. 

Between English, and Western, there are 19 class levels of competition in IHSA competitions. 

“In order to be competitive, a school will need to have riders at each of the levels to compete for the team,” said Kelly Francfort, vice president of the IHSA. “The rider who has had just a year of riding is as important as the experienced open equitation rider.”

Western’s equestrians were only able to have one show last year. This year, riders are excited to showcase their abilities, but they will have to wait one week longer than anticipated. 

“Our team is a pretty versatile group,” Kilgore said. “We have a range of riders from people that haven’t competed before and people that haven’t even really touched a horse to really competitive riders that have an extensive show background and have ribbons and championships under their belt.” 

The beginning of the 2022-23 season comes at the end of years prior when COVID-19 restrictions limited the ability for teams to gather. 

“The IHSA is excited to have the organization running at full throttle this year,” Francfort said. “We are definitely seeing more competitions being scheduled as schools have continued to relax their COVID-19-related restrictions … In many cases, the limitations had to do with travel restrictions.” 

With their first road trip of the season this weekend, the Western equestrian club is looking forward to getting back into competition with schools in their region. 

“I’m excited for a real show season and hopefully post competition,” Marchant said. “We want to go to zones at Stanford and see if we can have riders make it to nationals.” 

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