No money. No transportation. And no one around you can tell a forelock from a fetlock. Is this hell? No, just college. Five riders share their tips for getting their equine fix, even with a full college courseload.
[top photo used with permission from Erika Hagen Photography]
It may be almost time for college-bound kids to leave the nest, but that doesn’t mean they have to leave the barn. There are a multitude of ways to ride on the cheap while you’re in school–from mucking stalls in exchange for rides to competing on an IHSA team. Hear how these five riders made it work.
Join the Club / Mandy Dominelli, University of Maryland, College Park
How did you keep riding through college? For my first few years, I just took occasional lessons with my trainer at home on weekends–then I joined the UMD Equestrian Club, which has a barn on-campus.
How did you know that was the right fit for you? The club is much more focused on stable management than riding, and there’s something in me that really likes caring for horses, rather than just showing up at the barn to ride and leave. The club was a good way to stay casually involved with horses…it was like my therapy.
What was the most challenging part of being in the club? With people at all different levels in the club, the horses did not have consistent handling. They tested everybody each time as lesson horses do, and sometimes newer people would make a mistake like feeding horses straw instead of hay (yes, that really happened!), and they wouldn’t think to ask about it. Stuff like that was frustrating, but it was good for what it was.
Who do you think joining an on-campus Equestrian Club would be a good fit for? It’s perfect for someone looking for something casual that fits into their schedule. One morning I would walk the 15 minutes to the barn to do chores, another I’d do a lesson. I was never going to get up early to write a paper, but I would wake up early to go to the barn. And I didn’t have to worry about traffic, which can be awful around DC.
Who would it not be a good fit for? Definitely not for someone looking for a lot of high-level training and competition. That just wasn’t the focus of the club.
Stay Close to Home / Emily Goldstein, Hood College
How did you keep riding through college? I lived at home and commuted to school, while keeping my horse Mo boarded near home. School’s only 20 minutes away from me and my horse.
How did you know that was the right option for you? I didn’t want to have to give up my horse, and the only affordable option was to commute. If I lived on campus I wouldn’t be able to do it.
What is the most challenging part of living at home and commuting? Making time for it all. This coming semester I’ve got five classes, an internship 16 hours a week, riding, training and a part time job.
Who do you think commuting would be a good fit for? If you have the option to stay with your parents and get some support from them, that made it possible for me. My parents help me out a lot for board, but once I get a job that will end. I was really lucky that they realized how much I love doing what I’m doing.
Who do you think it would be a bad fit for? It wouldn’t work for people who don’t have time, or people just getting into the sport. I’ve been doing it more than half of my life. And it really depends on the support you have from people.
Try Out for the Team / Rachel Salera, Delaware Valley College
How did you keep riding through college? I compete in hunt seat IHSA shows, and recently ventured over to the reining side even though I had never sat in a Western saddle in my life! I also board my horse at a nearby farm.
How did you know that doing IHSA was a good fit for you? I’m a competitive person, and have been showing my whole life, but I’m a big “what’s the next step” kind of person. So IHSA was perfect–and you never get another opportunity to be on a team in this sport, with people who ride at all levels supporting each other.
What has been the most challenging part? Time management. If you want to ride, you have to be detail oriented and manage time. Do homework in between classes while other people are taking naps, or get up early to finish your work before an 8 am class. I know what my time commitments are for the team, so I block off those times on my schedule just like I would block off time for a class. When it comes to my own horse, sometimes I may only have 45 minutes to spend at the barn, and 20 minutes of that to spend riding.
Who do you think IHSA competition is a good fit for or not a good fit for? I thought about it for a long time and I can’t really think of someone it wouldn’t be good for. We have girls who haven’t ridden much and can compete walk-trot. And then we also have people from a very high level, but drawing different horses at shows levels the playing field for everyone.
My advice is to research the team you’re interested in and see if it’s right for you. And don’t be shy about sending emails or talking to students and friends. For high school students, IEA is a good stepping stone, and another way to get your foot in the door is through talent search clinics. I did the one hosted by Jim Arrigon at Beckett Run Farm and he helped me figure out which college would be a good fit for me.
Bring Your Horse / Jenn Price, University of Delaware
How did you know bringing your horse to school was the right choice for you? I had heard it was good not to bring a horse your first year and not have to worry about it. So for my first semester of college, I didn’t bring my horse…and I was really bored and really bummed. I ended up becoming a working student to fill the void. That let me get the lay of the land of where to board when I eventually brought my mare Tilley up for my second year.
What has been the most challenging part? Finances—college is expensive to begin with, then add board, and lessons, and competing. My parents and I split board, and while I was a working student I could work off lessons, but that was so time consuming it was difficult. Luckily, I’m close enough that I can go home and work on the weekends. Time management is a big thing too–exams on Mondays are the worst if I’ve been away all weekend!
Who do you think should not bring their horse to school? Not Greeks, or other people who want to do a lot of extracurriculars. I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t be social, but I found most of my good friends from rooming on the same floor or from my pre-vet program.
Trade Work for Rides / Carla Lake, University of Maryland
And I’ll round this out with my own experience: During college, I was lucky if I rode a handful of times a semester, and some semesters I didn’t ride at all, since I had no transportation, next to no money, and a busy schedule of school, extracurriculars and work. But you can bet I looked forward to my breaks from school, when I went home and had access to a car–and cooked up several schemes to get my riding fix:
Volunteering: I volunteered at a horse rescue during winter and summer breaks, exchanging a couple hours a day of feeding, turning out and other miscellaneous chores for the chance to ride occasionally. I had to be patient, since farm came first–if the farrier was coming, or we had to go deliver a horse to its new home, there might not be enough time to ride that day. But that was okay because I learned a lot I didn’t know about stable management.
Making sweet deals: I lucked into a few situations (some with people I met through the rescue) where I was able to ride privately owned horses. Sometimes all you have to do is tell people you’re a poor student looking for something to ride, and the rest will work itself out.
Lessons: My senior year, when I had a car on campus to drive to my internship and cash burning a hole in my pocket, I started spending exactly half of my income on riding lessons. That was not sustainable.
Working off rides: Once the lesson thing fizzled, I worked off the odd ride here and there with that instructor. I mucked stalls, cleaned troughs, and made sure the barn fairy left the aisle sparkling clean in exchange for the chance to ride her Equitation horses.
Go Riding! (…after you do your homework, of course…)