When a typical UNCG student thinks of our athletics, they think of the usual suspects – basketball, soccer and baseball, because we see these sports played all over campus. But one sport that has been exponentially growing since 2013 is the Equestrian club.
The Equestrian club involves horseback riding and competing in shows against other schools in the area. Their proud president, Bayley Walsh, has been involved in the horse world since she was eight years old.
“There was a horse farm near my house and I always wanted to go give the horses carrots and treats. Then for my birthday my mom got me my first riding lesson and I have been hooked ever since,” said Walsh.
When Bayley first arrived at UNCG as a freshman, she found the club to be in a transitional stage. They were looking for a new trainer and only had a few members. When their senior President graduated, Bayley took over with a great amount of success. She realized that she needed to get the word out about Equestrian Club.
“We get our name around campus through the web with the club sports website and our facebook page “UNCG Equestrian Team,” said Bayley. “Our facebook page talks about what is going on with the team and we do live results of our riders during competitions, so friends and family can keep up with what is going on.” Club apparel is also offered online to show club spirit and to potentially recruit new members. The club now has 27 members, which offers up opportunities to fundraise and do local community service work.
Joining equestrian club requires no past experience, but one must still try out. However, if one wants to participate in riding competitions, they must put in work through lessons and be passionate about what they are doing. Lessons with the club trainer, Allison Townley, are held at Townley Equestrian Center (previously Cutting Edge Farms), which is located in Randleman, NC. Each member is required to take at least 1 lesson there each week, and competition riders are required to take 2 a week.
Experience for riding competitions is preferred, but if inexperienced riders have a drive to learn, then they can possibly participate also. Veteran riders do not only compete, though. They mentor the inexperienced members too.
“Veteran riders definitely go out of their way to mentor these riders. Everyone on this team is at different skill levels and no matter how advanced you are we all support each other. We are open with each other and everyone is comfortable enough to ask questions,” said Bayley. “The veteran riders are also there to help those who need it both at home and at competition. Whether it be helping them do their hair net in their helmet or helping to better explain something they may not understand.” This club is a family that is not at all reluctant to help and teach one another on a regular basis.
Practices usually last an hour and a half. They work on individual exercises to improve each member but they also do a variety of other exercises, such as flat work, which consists of a mix of walking, trotting, and cantering. They work on endurance also, which consists of riding without stirrups to strengthen correct riding techniques. They will practice jumping and riding through courses as well.
A typical equestrian show consists of two events: flat classes and jumping classes. “We draw a piece of paper from a hat and on the paper is our horse we are assigned to compete on,” says Walsh. “We do not get to warm up and we have most likely never been on this horse before.” This event validates how good one can look and control a horse that they have never ridden before. Each horse acts different and has a different personality. The judges want to see how well you can perform on a new horse, a high indication of a rider’s general skill levels. As for jumping classes, judges look for how smoothly and fluently one can ride through a course. As said by Bayley, “The more effortless we can make it look, the more the judge will like us.”
The club have their first competition Saturday. The team aims to come into the season strong and with confidence. Fall shows end on October 22. As for the spring semester of riding and competitions, Bayley hopes to see some of her fellow club members make it to regionals, zones, and nationals after the normal show season ends. The other big goal? Seeing everyone in Equestrian Club growing more comfortable in the ring.