Club equestrian members face unpredictability and unfamiliarity of horses in competition


Junior Marianne Lango practices jumping on April 16 at BlueStar Sportshorses. While the hunt team is finished for the season, the members will continue practicing for their spring show season. 

When stepping away from the daily grind of classes, Central Michigan's club equestrian team travels to a barn for practice.

Central Michigan’s club equestrian team goes to barns in Freeland and Riverdale — 45 and 25-minute drives respectively — to practice for an hour every week throughout the school year. The thrill of riding horses, the love of competition and the family-like atmosphere with the team serve as motivation.

“It’s really fun, it’s a great team atmosphere,” said Commerce Township freshman Jessie MacDonald. “You bond with the horse, but you bond with your teammates too, which is really cool.”

Riders aren’t on the same horse from lesson-to-lesson or show-to-show, but still get close with the horses they work with and learn everything about it, MacDonald said.

Calli Morris | Central Michigan Life

Junior Marianne Lango practices jumping on April 16 at BlueStar Sportshorses. While the hunt team is finished for the season, the members will continue practicing for their spring show season.

“The girls show up once a week, (and) usually we do 10 lessons per semester,” said head coach Melanie Blues. “(Team members) come, hang out, groom the horses and get them ready. (We) warm them up, and then we go over the basics (like) walk, trot, canter, a little jumping and then we go from there and get them ready for a horse show.”

The sport of equestrian

In equestrian, riders prepare for the competitions — called shows — in front of judges. There are two teams, the hunt team and the stock team.

The hunt team focuses on jumping and maneuvering horses around obstacles. There are usually eight to nine competitors in each class.

The judges score riders based on skills including riders’ posture and the horse’s movement. Ribbons are awarded to the top six finishers and the winner earns six points, through sixth place, which gets one point.

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WATCH: CM Life's Andrew Surma spends a day with CMU's Equestrian Club.

The stock team shows are slower and without jumps. The scoring is similar to the hunt team.

“On stock team, we do more of the western stuff with chaps, fancy hats and glittery shirts,” said Grand Haven sophomore Rosa Moody.

“You have to have a line from your shoulder to your hip to your heel when you are on the horse,” Moody said. “Then (you) just have (to have) good posture and be able to control the horse and get it to do exactly what you want it to.”

A rider on the stock team can move into the reining division by placing well. Moody said the riding is more advanced in the reining division, with circle patterns and tricks like spins and sliding stops.

Because riders are randomly assigned to horses at each show and practice, riders face the unpredictability and unfamiliarity of the horses.

Even with all the practice the team does, predicting how a horse will act is difficult. Riders must constantly adapt from show-to-show and horse to horse.

“I get really nervous jumping when we have to memorize the course,” said Grand Rapids senior Melanie Buck. “Going out there on a horse, you don’t know how it is going to act (if) you have never ridden it before and just going for it (is nerve-racking).”

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association is the governing organization of collegiate equestrian. According to the IHSA website, CMU is in a region with schools including Saginaw Valley, Grand Valley, Albion, Ferris and Adrian College.

To fine-tune skills when away from school, many of the club members own horses or have access to them at home. Riding many different horses is key to getting used to the IHSA competition where horses are randomly assigned, Moody said.

The show season for equestrian starts in October and runs until February. While the show season is over, the women still practice every week.

Many of the women on the team have been riding horses for most of their lives, although Buck said anybody is welcome to join the team, even people with no experience.

“We are in desperate need of walk trotters who haven’t ridden before and you can start taking lessons,” Buck said.