The Collegiate Riding Experience

Your passion for horse showing can carry you farther than you ever imagined … You just have to let it.

The American Quarter Horse Association

Camille Graupman competing in a reining class at West Texas A&M University on "Slidun," one of the donated school horses. WTAMU Equestrian Team photo.

There were multiple reasons why I couldn’t keep still in my seat at the 2002 American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championship Show in Fort Worth, Texas. I was 9 years old, and it was absolutely the coolest thing I’d ever experienced. I squirmed with excitement, watching my first reining class and joining in on the hoops and hollers of the stadium audience as if I knew what I was looking at with an experienced and expert eye.  As far as I knew, I was witnessing magic in motion – and I wanted that to be me.

I pulled out a picture of me and my brand-new American Quarter Horse that was folded up in my pocket. During the lineup, I stretched out my arm and closed one eye – imagining the two of us squeezed into a collection of the slickest people and horses I’d ever seen. I was in awe of what they could do together, and I knew if I worked hard enough, I could compete at that caliber one day and stand in a shiny lineup.

My seat-bouncing was also induced by the fact that I had just gotten my first pair of real spurs. When my mom, my trainer and I had been walking through the shops of the upstairs walkway, I couldn’t hide my desperation for my own pair. My saint of a mother obliged my desperation with joy, and for the rest of the day (and the days to come) I took every chance I could to make those black-and-silver beauties clink and jingle. I felt like an official cowgirl, and my passion hasn’t subsided since.

Fourteen years later, I find myself as a college graduate and former college athlete. The equestrian team at West Texas A&M University opened its doors to me four years ago, and I jumped in, spurs first, to the adventure of a lifetime. “Muffin” and I never made it to the Ford Youth World, but we made it to Canyon, Texas, and that was more than good enough for me.

Horse showing in college is a world of its own. Take most of what you know about showing in the real world and throw it out the window. While the principles of riding in the various disciplines are the same, the competition format will throw even the most experienced rider a curve ball – competitors are not allowed to ride their own horses.

Equestrian teams practice and compete at home shows on horses that are donated to their school. When a team travels to a competing school, they will ride that team’s horses. Competitors don’t know what horse they’ll be riding until they draw the horse’s name out of a hat (literally). Depending on what association a competitor’s school competes under (the National Collegiate Equestrian Association or Intercollegiate Horse Show Association), competitors will either be granted a small warm-up with their draw before competing, or they will be thrown straight into their class to be judged without any preparation. 

Even when competing at your own school, the home-field advantage wavers because your draw is still random. At WTAMU, there could be 60 potential horses up for grabs at the draw table, so you better have a good memory. At larger shows, we would even ask other schools to bring their horses to throw into the mix to alleviate the stress of competing too much on our school horses. Over the years of competing against the same teams over and over, you do become familiar with horses from other schools. Just like football coaches exchange film to prepare for a game, “horse lists” can be provided to competitors from other schools to help them prepare for their rides. These lists include weaknesses or tendencies that a horse has, so competitors can prepare a plan for riding the horse they draw.

The unpredictable nature of collegiate horse showing has, without a doubt, made me a better horsewoman and competitor. The task is simple; the execution is complex; and the mental control of the competitor is tested even more than usual. Collegiate horse showing offers classes for a variety of experience levels, so a competitor doesn’t have to be an AQHYA world champion to make a team. He or she just has to be passionate and coachable.

My team at WTAMU was consistently about 40 riders strong. We were one of the biggest teams in our region at the time. These riders came from all walks of life and disciplines, but we formed a pretty awesome melting pot of horsewomen (and a few -men along the way). For me, college athletics were much different than high school. All of these riders chose to be here. This is the team they pledged to represent. From all over the nation, and even the world at times, we created a coalition of determination, strategy and celebration. We relished in each other’s successes and empathized with each other’s pain of loss. I was fortunate enough to have a college equestrian team that was truly like family, and many of those girls are still my greatest and dearest friends today.

Every team is different, but the goals are the same, and the journeys of each competitor cross one way or another. With dedication and a “love of the game,” your passion for horses and horse showing can take you farther than you ever imagined in college.

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