Riding in college can be a challenge. Besides the whole moving away from home and dealing with new classes, new friends, and a new environment thing, managing a horse can be a full-time job. However, for those who are committed to their sport and know they can’t live without their horsey fix, there are plenty of options for every situation and wallet.
Owning a horse in college is expensive and time consuming, and it’s definitely not for everyone. Those who want to continue riding, though, are faced with three options (one of which I’ll explain in the next section). College riding teams are run under one of two organizations – the NCAA or the IHSA. You’ve probably heard NCAA mentioned at college football games, high school recruiting fairs, and in university brochures. The NCAA regulates college sports, and there are only a handful of schools lucky enough to have official equestrian teams. Being on a team means you’ll probably need to be recruited, meet with your college’s coach, send in videos, or try out to be on a team. Members must follow stringent regulations concerning academics and their sport – I could go on for pages on all the intricacies that being an NCAA athlete entails. Basically, you need to be extremely dedicated to both your school work and your sport, and be ready for early mornings in the gym and late nights at the barn. All that hard work does pay off though, as team members get to ride in a competitive group of schools with some of the best riders in the nation.
Most schools, however, have IHSA teams, which are run more like equestrian clubs. Riders may have to try out; some schools require only that you sign up and show up for practice. Competitors attend shows with local schools in a number of levels – everywhere from walk/trot to open equitation. Most colleges require riders to help take care of the team’s horses and facilities, so there is a bit of time involved outside of practice, but it’s definitely a very cost-effective way to get your riding fix.
If your school is in or near an equestrian area, try to get part-time work at a local barn. You might be teaching lessons and schooling greenies, but if you work hard and stay committed to both your job and your academic work, who knows where you may end up! Many barns would love to have a student around to lend an extra hand. You might not get paid, or you may get paid with lessons or rides – just look at it as cheaper than having your own horse around.
More and more schools (at least those in relatively agricultural areas) are offering degrees in equine science and management. Even if equine studies aren’t your major, you may be able to pick up a minor or just take a few classes that interest you. If your college has any sort of veterinary or equine program, also keep an eye out for projects, enterprises, or volunteer opportunities that allow you to get hands-on experience with horses. You might be able to halter train foals or help with feed. I know very few barns that would turn away a helping hand!
My college offers three unique equestrian enterprises, one involving the Thoroughbred breeding program, one involving the Quarter Horse breeding program, and one where students work cattle on a northern university-owned ranch. The programs are open to any major with horse experience and are a great way to gain real-world equine experience in a university setting.
Bring Your Steed
The last option (although I can imagine that any horse-crazy/dedicated individual could come up with other ways to get their equine fix) I don’t recommend to everyone. College is a time of transitions and it’s almost always jam-packed busy. Every student’s number one priority should be academics – sports and hobbies come second (or third if you have a job as well). In that mix, there needs to be time for socializing and experiencing college life. Horses are incredibly time-consuming, and not all students are able to pay for full board/training, especially if they are paying for their college expenses. Those that are able to take their horse to school with them (and afford it) must be committed to keeping up the level of care their horse is used to. If you need to get to the barn everyday to feed supplements, you need to make sure you can work out the time to do so, and that you can get there. Not all schools have equestrian centers on campus, so those without cars may need to hitch rides with friends or use public transportation to get to the barn. Most riders I know who brought their horse to college brought a car as well; it’s just easier that way, but it’s not impossible to ride off campus if you don’t. Just be realistic about travel times and methods and ensure that your horse will get the care and attention he or she needs.
Riders who bring their horses to college must make sacrifices, as do riders who go without. Like any major decision, this one should not be taken lightly, but it also shouldn’t be stressed over. If you bring an equine buddy and later discover that you just don’t have time to make it to lessons and whatnot, you can always try to work out a lease situation, or find another rider at school who wasn’t lucky enough to bring their own horse. There are plenty of options out there no matter what decision you make, and as long as you’re still able to enjoy your college experience and keep those grades up, there’s no reason college can’t be jam-packed full of horse activities and adventures.