#TBT: 10 Concerns About Riding in College

Amelia Bayer, a sophomore at Bridgewater College in Virginia, lines up 10 common concerns of college-bound riders, and knocks ’em all down.

Amelia and her horse Oni at his first Training at Surefire after coming back from a cracked radius.

Amelia and her horse Oni at his first Training at Surefire after coming back from a cracked radius.

We’ve all heard it or overheard it: “You’re going to college? What are you going to do about riding? You can’t do both!” Well, I’m here to bust that myth. As some of you may remember, I used to write the “Diary of a Working Student” column, explaining what it was like working for Clayton Fredericks and then Sinead Halpin. Now, I am about to start my sophomore year of college. I have two horses that I have produced to the preliminary level from 4 year olds coming off the track, one of which I successfully rehabbed from a broken leg during my freshman year.  I also have a 3.97 GPA (That’s all As and one pesky A-). My horses and I are successfully competing at the preliminary level at competitions such as Surefire Horse Trials, The Fork, and Millbrook Horse Trials.

As a refresher, in case you haven’t read my previous column, I graduated high school a semester early and took a job with Clayton Fredericks with Oni, my first horse that I produced to the preliminary level. Then, I decided to take a gap year and took a job with Sinead Halpin, where I was a working student for a year. Oni sustained an injury that we diagnosed as navicular and his future as an event horse was questionable. Sinead found me a fantastic 4 year old OTTB, Roadie, who I introduced to eventing. Roadie is now 6 and is qualified for a CIC1*. Oni made a miraculous comeback, but cracked his radius this past February. This time I just hoped he would be sound enough to live his life out in a field. He made a second miraculous comeback to compete at Millbrook a few weekends ago in the JYOP and requalify for a CCI1*.

I didn’t send my horses off to be professionally trained while I went to school. I didn’t take an “easy” course load: I’m going into my sophomore year with 44 credits already completed (34 of those were taken during the traditional school year and 10 were taken during the summer to get a head start). I found a college that offered what I wanted, worked hard, and made sacrifices like many of us do. I am a double major in English and Education with a minor in Equine Studies at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. Bridgewater College is lucky enough to have a fabulous equestrian center with fantastic coaches and horses. The best part is that in addition to my equestrian friends, I have made great non-horsey friends who beg me to take them to the barn to see my horses. One of my best friends, Bri, even considers them her “god-children.” My friends support me in my sport and I support them in theirs. If I can’t go out one night because I have a competition, they don’t pressure me. They understand and let me know the next time everyone is getting together.

Amelia and her horse Roadie at his first Preliminary at The Fork this spring.

Amelia and her horse Roadie at his first Preliminary at The Fork this spring.

At the Bridgewater College Equestrian Center, there is a boarding barn for those students who bring their own horses, but there are also many school horses that are available for students. Bridgewater College has been a member of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Assocation for years. This year, we are adding an IDA team and an eventing team so there is more to offer to all types of riders.

The key to riding in college is time management and making sacrifices. So maybe you can’t go to the big basketball game that all your friends are going to because you have a competition of your own? I promise there will be another game. Maybe you have a big test to study for? Then schedule in a study break to go up for a hack or an easy flat day instead of watching Netflix. It is possible!

So, to you high school students who are being told that you just simply can’t do it, check out this list of common questions and concerns to help you find a school that will allow you to do both:

Are you a person or a number?

Bridgewater College is a small school — really small. We have about 1800 students. But because of that, I am on a first-name basis with my professors and they work with me when I need to miss class due to a competition or other reasons. They will be particularly willing to work with you if you have good attendance and participate in class.

“It’s too expensive to ride and go to school.”

No, it’s not cheap. I won’t even pretend it is. But look into schools that offer scholarships, particularly private schools have this ability. With the scholarship that Bridgewater College has given me, it costs me $16,000 per year for tuition, room, and board. Without my scholarship, it would cost me over $40,000 to attend Bridgewater. Because of my scholarship, I am able to keep both of my horses at school with me as long as I don’t let my grades drop.

Does the school have its own equestrian facility? What is nearby?

Bridgewater has a fantastic facility, and it’s only 15 minutes from main campus! Our facility consists of a 300 foot by 140 foot indoor ring, two large outdoor rings (one is lighted), secure and heated tack rooms, spacious turnout, and a large hill perfect for gallop and trot sets. We are also adding a full-size dressage arena for our IDA team. Some colleges have equestrian programs but their barns can be up to 45 minutes away from main campus — that’s valuable riding time and studying time that you are wasting by driving!

Also, are there competitions around you? Bridgewater College is an hour from the Virginia Horse Center and two hours from Surefire, Morven, and Maryland Horse Trials. This means access to competitions, clinics, and cross-country schooling!

Who’s going to coach you?

Lucky for me, Bridgewater has 3 fantastic coaches that are more than willing to help me with anything I need. I’m primarily coached by Jerry Schurink, the Director of Riding. He used to coach Area I in the ’80s, resulting in bronze, silver, and gold medals at NAYRC, and has great relationships with many prominent people in the eventing world. We took a trip to VAHT this spring where he introduced me to his old friend David O’Connor. He also has experience in dressage and used to coach at UMass before coaching at Bridgewater. Other eventers in the area that you may be familiar with are Laine Ashker, Lynn Symansky, and Jan Byyny.

So what if you don’t have your own horse?

As I previously mentioned, Bridgewater has school horses of all levels. There’s a horse for the beginner to the more experienced rider. If you don’t have your own horse, check out what kinds of horses the school has to offer. Some of them only have horses that can go through a certain level. Keep in mind that you do not need your own horse to compete on your school’s IHSA or IDA team. Even if you have your own horse, you are not allowed to ride it in these competitions.

So what if you DO have your own horse(s)?

Make sure there is a place to board your horse that you are happy with. Some schools only allow school horses at their facility, leaving your poor pony homeless! Also, make sure you trust the staff and they work with you. That way, if you end up with a horse with a broken leg due to a freak accident halfway through your freshman year, you know they are in good hands and you worry a little less. The staff at the equestrian center love my horses almost as much as I do. When my one horse became seriously injured, they let me check on him after-hours and would send me updates while I was on main campus taking care of other responsibilities.

Meet the program director and observe the program itself!

When you go to visit the school, make a special trip to the equestrian center and ask to meet with whoever is in charge of the program. Drive from the main campus to the equestrian center so you know exactly how far away it is from where you will be living. Ask them any questions you may have including if you can speak to a rider currently in the program, if you can observe a lesson or practice, or even if you can take a trial lesson of your own! All these options are available at Bridgewater. Bridgewater also offers prospective riders to overnight and stay with a rider who is currently in the program so you can get a first-hand experience of the reality of riding in college.

Does the school have an equine studies major/minor?

Most people I have spoken to do not suggest majoring in equine studies. However, minoring in equine studies is completely different. This allows you to pursue a degree in something such as education, biology, or business, yet still continue to learn about horses and the sport itself. Just a few classes that I am planning on taking are “Conformation,” “Equine Lameness and Disease,” “Barn Management,” and “Equine Business Management.” These are aspects of the sport that I learned while being a working student, but learning them in a classroom setting means more attention to detail and credit towards my degree! Also, do not feel the need to take on a minor if you think it will be too much of a time commitment. Some students take select equine classes that fit into their schedule for fun, but are not on track to complete the entire minor.

Don’t feel like you need to do it all.

When I started my freshman year, I decided I was going to participate in the equine minor and the equestrian club, but not try out for the IHSA team. Instead, I focused on the transition to college and my own two horses. Everyone participates in the program in different degrees. Some students do everything while others, like me, pick and choose due to time constraints. If you just want to participate in the club, that’s fine. If you want to try out for a team in addition to the club, that’s fine too. Your freshman year is full of adjustments: you will have three more years to participate in everything. Take it slow and don’t over-commit yourself.

“But I really want to ride full-time and I think school is going to take away from my focus.”

Take a gap year. That’s what I did! Be a working student for a year before you make the full commitment to skip college. I bet you will be surprised how much work it is. I went through a time period where I was convinced that I was going to be a working student and skip college. For me, I was never scared of the work or putting in a long day. But I found out quickly that if something awful were to happen, such as a bad accident that would prevent me from ever sitting in a saddle again or my horse sustaining a career-ending injury, I would not be able to support myself. With a college degree, I can pursue the horses and have a degree to fall back on if my eventing career doesn’t pan out like it does in my dreams. I still have the dream to go Advanced, but currently my goals are Intermediate/2*. I have a coach at school that is willing to help me meet those goals and I can get a degree while doing it. Remember, there are professional riders who went to college such as Andrea Davidson and Lynn Symansky. And don’t forget Libby Head who completed Rolex.

The Bridgewater equestrian team after a successful home show.

The Bridgewater equestrian team after a successful home show.

I promise you: you can go to college and compete at the upper levels, lower levels, or just ride. The key is making the right personal sacrifices, doing your research and finding a school that will allow you to meet your goals. Also, know that if your horses only gets ridden a handful of times, if at all, during finals week, that it’s perfectly okay because they deserve a break.

Anyone who has any questions about riding in college, don’t hesitate to contact me! You can find me on Facebook or e-mail me at [email protected]. If you are interested in a particular organization I mentioned in this article, check out the links below for a list of schools that participate, as well as the website for Bridgewater College’s equestrian program:

Go riding!

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