By Megan Guerrero & Randy Mancilla
Many students on campus have seen the banner for the equestrian team, and wondered why they did not know that we have a team of students who rides horses. Unlike other more well-known sports, the equestrian team gets relatively little representation. There aren’t busloads of students going to their competitions or cheerleaders celebrating their impressive jumps.
Our equestrians participate in the Interscholastic Equestrian League (IEL) along with over 30 other high schools in the state.
Equestrians require just as much passion and practice as any athlete, many practicing from a young age. Being tackled on the football field may not sound like a picnic, but imagine getting a 1,000 pound horse to jump over a four foot pole. Horse riding is just as dangerous if not more than many sports.
There’s a big difference between merely riding a horse and jumping them. There’s a trust the rider has to build with the horse from the get-go to make that even possible.
Competitors have to memorize the course and then get their horses to jump a series of fences through nonverbal commands.
As opposed to sports such as football or soccer where the entire team trains together under the directions of a coach or coaches, those on the equestrian team train in their own stables with private coaches.
Under the guidance of a horse trainer they are taught different ways on how to ride a horse, such as riding a horse for jumping or for dressage competitions.
Dressage means practice in French and is the style of horse riding where the horse performs fancy footwork under the guidance of its rider. It’s the style in which our equestrian team riders sophomores Zachary Graves and Anna-Carolina Knapp compete in.
In dressage, riders control their horse with their leg pressure as well as with a crop. With their legs, they give nudges, taps, kicks, and twists signaling the horse to perform certain actions such as spins, trots, prances, and what we would consider little dances.
The crop does not hurt the horse, but rather taps the horse’s flank signaling what movements they should do, which typically are the more complex tricks.
Graves has done horseback riding for about eight years and Knapp for five. Both agree that equestrian is not an easy sport, but the reward a horseback rider gets is like no other.
“I would like to knock down any misconceptions about horseback riding being easy,” Knapp said. “It all depends on what you do but in terms of dressage it is incredibly hard. The fact that you are controlling a half ton animal with your legs, core and arms is an undertaking. I find myself coming home on days with more blisters and bruises than you could imagine. It is a dangerous sport but that is all sports. I find that once you can find that true connection between human and animal is the most rewarding feeling ever.”
Knapp placed 7th out of 56 competitors in her most recent competition. She believes that she still has room for improvement as a horseback rider and sees it in her future.
The school first formed an equestrian team in 2003 when student Jenna Presley approached administration to create a team. The team has has been managed by counselor and horseback rider Mea Tahi ever since.
She manages the team’s dues and fees and acts as the supervisor of the team, and just like the team members, she also doesn’t see the horseriding athletes often.
“Our competitors will each find their own trainer that suits their own needs and practice at different places,” Tahi said. “Instead of all competitors having to practice the same thing, it all really depends on what they want to practice. Maybe someone will focus on practicing their riding rather than their jumps, and someone focuses on practicing their jumps rather than their riding”.