The Academic Equestrian: 8 Ways to Ride In College on a Tight Budget

Haley and Kody. Photo by Hannah Schaus

For many high school students considering riding in college, money is the deciding factor. With the high cost of attending college, it’s hard to justify allocating any of our limited funds to horses. I am grateful that Alfred University’s equestrian teams are considered a varsity sport and funded by the school, but fully-funded intercollegiate teams are in the minority — lots of teams have to pay for weekly practices, travel expenses and entry fees.

However, even without the added stress and financial strain of paying for lessons and shows, I have to budget carefully to make sure riding through college remains sustainable.

Below are eight ways to make collegiate riding work on a tight budget.

1. Borrow or buy secondhand when possible.

At Alfred, we have a collection of school-owned show apparel, which several team members take advantage of throughout the season. This is especially useful to team members who are just starting out or who likely won’t compete again after college, allowing them to show without having to spend money on clothes they may not get much use out of. Most team members are also willing to lend their clothes to others, provided they are worn with care and returned clean in a timely manner. If you do have the opportunity to borrow a teammate’s or school-owned outfits, make sure to care for them as though they were your own.

2. Don’t limit yourself to equestrian brands.

In the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) and NCAA equestrian, most riders favor a solid-colored, form-fitting shirt over the trendy bling-encrusted shirts popular at some breed shows. There are a wide range of stores that carry fitted button-down shirts in a variety of colors that are much less expensive than traditional equestrian brands.

3. Take care of what you have.

We’re all guilty, at one time or another, of shoving our chaps into the bottom of our garment bag, promising ourselves we’ll hang them up as soon as we get home. Hang your clothes up right away, wash carefully as instructed, and invest in a good garment bag to keep your clothes protected and clean at horse shows. Condition your boots to keep them from cracking. Keep your hat in its hat can and avoid handling it by the brim to maintain its shape longer. These seem like insignificant and obvious tasks, but by consistently taking care of what you have, you’ll save money by making everything last longer.

4. Be creative.

Growing up, my grandma made all my show clothes, and to this day I still wear chaps and scarves she made for me. Although chaps are beyond the average person’s sewing capabilities, scarf patterns are readily available and simple. Making your own scarves is a much cheaper alternative to buying them, you’re able to accurately match colors, and you can ensure that you won’t blend in with anyone else in the show pen.

5. Make your clothing multi-functional.

For Alfred’s IHSA riders, we have the option of wearing black breeches or horsemanship pants, because many of our combined hunt seat and western riders may already have black breeches, which have the same effect under chaps as the traditional horsemanship pants. Similarly, we require black boots but allow riders to wear paddock boots if they don’t want to purchase Western boots. Although all teams may not allow this, check with your coaches or captains to see if clothing you already have can work.

6. Choose simple, conservative clothes.

Tempting as it may be to splurge on a bling shirt or crocodile-print hat, you’re much better off opting for clean lines and simple designs that won’t be outdated by the next show season. A neat appearance and show clothes that fit well will allow you to showcase your riding much better than a flashy but ill-fitting or unflattering piece. A crisply-shaped hat, neat bun, and clean boots will go further in adding class to one’s show ring presence than an expensive shirt.

7. If your team is not funded, explore options for lesson payments.

Ask your coaches about opportunities to work off part of your lesson or show costs. Working in a barn, be it mucking stalls, feeding, or turning horses in and out, provides a chance to learn or strengthen horsemanship and barn management skills.

8. Apply for scholarships.

Even if you’re already in college, many breed and horse show organizations (including IHSA) offer scholarships for collegiate riders. Check with your coaches, the IHSA website, and other resources like FastWeb and Cappex to find scholarships tailored to your pursuits.

If you want horses to be a part of your college experience, there are ways to make it happen even on a limited budget. Expenses add up quickly in any equestrian sport, but IHSA is arguably one of the most economical ways to compete through college because riders are only responsible for the cost of their clothing and, if their team is not school-funded, their entry fees.

Go riding!

Haley will continue to share more adventures from the perspective of a collegiate equestrian! Keep an eye out for The Academic Equestrian weekly.

Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English with a minor in Equine Business Management. She owns two Quarter Horse geldings, Cricket (“At Last an Invitation”) and Slide (“HH Slick N Slide”). Haley is a captain of the AU western equestrian team, competing in horsemanship, reining and hunt seat. She also loves trail riding.

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