College Prep, Part 1

Tips and how-to's for launching your collegiate horseback-riding career.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Collegiate riders must be adaptable so they can ride a wide variety of horses. Journal photo

Saying goodbye to the ol’ show horse and the beloved show scene – that’s a daunting thought for a youth competitor. Thanks to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, showing doesn’t have to wait until college graduation day. These organizations offer student exhibitors the chance to continue honing their riding skills and enjoy competition close to the college classroom.

Fellow competitors who have been there, done that are a great source of knowledge when it comes to learning how to navigate the waters of getting on an equestrian team. But the Journal went straight to the horse’s mouth for the low-down on how you can be recruited and join a collegiate equestrian team. NCEA coaches Casie Lisabeth Maxwell and Greg Williams, plus IHSA coaches Carla Wennberg and Amanda Love weigh in with their do’s and don’ts for aspiring collegiate riders.

There’s a Catch

Hit ride, catch ride, whatever you want to call it, it’s not the same as riding your own familiar show steed. In IHSA competitions, riders mount and then show - no warm-up is allowed. NCEA riders, on the other hand, have a little bit more of a learning curve, with a four-minute warm-up in horsemanship and five minutes for reining.

Practice makes perfect, so take patterns from our Horsemanship Pattern e-book and make the most of your practice time.

“You’ve got to get used to being adjustable to the horses,” says Greg Williams, head coach of the Auburn University women’s NCEA team in Auburn, Alabama. “In those four minutes, you aren’t about to re-train that horse, get him coming your way or anything like that. The only thing that you can do training-wise is to just sharpen him up.”

To evaluate whether a rider is going to fit with the collegiate riding format, Greg looks at the rider’s timing and feel.

“Our big question is, ‘What are they going to do on a tough horse?’ ” he says. For reining recruits, Greg prefers riders who also have a background in rail and pattern classes in addition to reining, because he finds those riders can best handle the wide variety of horses that are thrown at them. “You may get a super-hot reiner one day, the next day, you’re basically getting a glorified horsemanship horse that you’re doing reining on … (Reining competitors) who also have experience at showing a lot of other events don’t try to mold all horses into one style.”

Timing and feel is also a major requirement for riders under Casie Lisabeth Maxwell, head coach of the Baylor University NCEA women’s equestrian team in Waco, Texas.

“Riding with your legs and having soft hands are two huge things for our horses that they’re on,” she says. “I try to watch riders’ timing for how they ask their horse to lope off and when they ask him to change leads and things like that – I think it tells a lot about how a horse is taking care of somebody and how much a rider can help them along and cover up the mistakes.”

Amanda Love, head coach of the West Texas A&M University’s IHSA equestrian team in Canyon, Texas, likes to see riders who have a background on multiple horses.

“(In competition), you’re literally drawing a horse’s name out of hat,” Amanda says.

Horsemanship is a competitive class, so being able to stand out is imperative to your success. Take a look at our Horsemanship Patterns e-book to perfect your skills in the practice pen.

“It’s pretty exciting that we have high expectations for a horse that you’ve sat on for about 30 seconds, to go out there and perform like a champion.

“I tell (my riders) to ride multiple horses, because that’s the nature of the beast that we do.”

“Probably the riders who struggle the most are the kids who have had that same youth horse their entire career and have learned their specific buttons, but maybe not a universal set of buttons for all horses out there that work in that discipline,” Amanda says. She’s also an advocate for riders taking lessons under multiple trainers to adjust to new kinds of instruction.

Although a recruit should have a lot of experience riding tough horses – and maybe even showing tough ones – Greg says those shouldn’t be the only type of horse a recruit rides before coming to college.

“Some horses are tough – make sure you don’t develop bad habits by always riding those.”

He adds, “You can’t get the timing on a really good horsemanship horse or a really good reiner without riding him. “If you only seem to have access to those that are tough, you probably need to do a lot of volunteer work for friends and trainers to see if you can’t spend some time on some finely tuned horses so that you learn that kind of rhythm and that kind of timing.

“One thing that’s important that college riding exposes more than anything else are the true horsemen. If you’re a true horseman, you need to remember that first, and you can probably adapt.”

Check back in a couple weeks for Part 2 to learn what coaches look for when recruiting riders.