Q&A with the Hamilton Equestrian Team

By Alex Orlov ’13

Founded in 2003, the Hamilton Equestrian Team (HET) is all about horsing around. Composed of 12 women, the team spent last weekend at Alfred University, where they competed in an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) invitational. Competitors included Cornell University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Elmira College, Ithaca College, Alfred University, RIT and SUNY schools.

Here to share her unbridled enthusiasm for equestrianism and the club is Sydney Wright-Shaner ’13, captain of the team. Wright-Shaner has been riding since the age of four but only began riding in college last year. The majority of HET comes to Hamilton with some riding experience. 

How do teams get scored at collegiate shows?

As the captain of the team, I have to choose to point a rider. What this means, essentially, is that I bet on the rider on my team, in each division, who I think is going to win. The riders don’t know who is pointed, as to not put pressure on them during the competition. Pointing riders is the only fair way that small teams like Hamilton can compete with big schools, with many riders, like Cornell. Riders are pinned, first through sixth. A first place ribbon is worth 7 points, 2nd, 5, 3rd, 4, 4th, 3, 5th, 2, 6th, 1. The points that all of the pointed riders receive are added up to contribute to the school’s score. The school with the highest amount of overall points wins. The riders who are not pointed still amass points. However, their points are used in order for them to place into the next division, which allows them the opportunity to qualify for regionals. Hannah Kolodner ’14 and Chelsea Ziegelbaum ’14, both of whom placed up, are automatically qualified for regionals in March.

Where do you practice and how do you prepare for horse shows?

We are required to lesson twice per week. Unlike a traditional team, we do not practice together. We have two coaches, Jean Raposa and Darlene Sandlin. The women on the team are either given the option to ride with Jean, Darlene or both. One may also choose to have a private or a semi-private lesson. A semi-private lesson is the only opportunity to ride with other team members. Last semester we tried clinic style lessons before our shows, in which the whole team would practice together, but we found that it was too time consuming and too difficult to coordinate our schedules to continue.

Do you consider equestrianism a sport? Why/why not?

I most certainly consider equestrianism a sport. In fact, it is one of the oldest sports, dating back to approximately 4,500 B.C. Many people don’t consider riding to be a sport because “the horse is doing all of the work,” which is a common misconception. Getting a horse to move beautifully on the flat, helping them find the correct distance over a jump, controlling the length of their stride, all of these skills require years and years of fine-tuning and countless hours of practice. In addition, riding especially develops leg and core strength, as well as stamina. 

Are there any team traditions? Bonding activities?

We have a lot of fun at horse shows. They start at around 8:30 in the morning, but we often have to be there around 7:15. Though riders only show in one or two events, we have to be at the show all day. Shows will last anywhere between 8:30-4:30. As captain, I always try to bring a lot of snacks. Food, as well as horses, is a common passion for the equestrian team.

What is your favorite part of being on the team? Do you have a favorite memory?

I find that I become extremely close with a couple of new people on the team after our away shows. Because we don’t practice together, shows are really one of our only opportunities for getting to spend time with our teammates. Shows serve as a great place to make friends, which is my favorite thing about being on the show team, as opposed to just riding on my own.

Has the team changed since you’ve been at Hamilton?

We rode with a different coach my freshman year, but then part of the team moved to ride with Jean Raposa at White Fox Farm. Jean has had a couple of different assistant coaches. Last semester, a couple of girls on the team, who board their horses with Darlene Sandlin at Fair Haven Farm, suggested that a partnership between the two trainers might serve to make the team even more competitive. The alliance seems to have done just that. The women on our team are improving markedly, due to the exposure to the expertise of both coaches.

What is one thing most people don’t know about competitive horseback riding?

It is necessary for women to wear a hairnet under their helmets in competitions.


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