While aging out is a very sad day for those in the equestrian world, senior riders have other options open to them: competing in amateur, pro, or open classes, and college riding teams. We were lucky enough to talk to Lauren Mahoney, who is currently on the Sacred Heart University Equestrian Team or “SHUET.”. Before this, Lauren was competing at the Grand Prix level with her horse, Armani.
Lauren currently competes in the open over fences and intermediate flat classes in IHSA. To earn a spot on the SHUET, Lauren had to participate in a length tryout process.
“Back in June during orientation, all prospective athletes for the riding team met with the coach, and she gave us a handbook. The handbook covered what we would need to know for tryouts which included an english flat pattern, a western flat pattern, our fitness test, and a checklist of equine knowledge and actions,” Lauren said. “Everyone tries out for a spot, including all incoming students and previous members. We all try out for both western and english and then are placed into which class best fits us.”
One thing about college riding teams is that everyone must try out for a spot each new year, even previous members that have been successful in IHSA.
Open over fences classes are the highest jumping level in IHSA. During these classes, Lauren competes at the 3′ level. Each rider rides a single round of a course to earn a score. The intermediate flat class is the second highest flatting level. For that level, the judge will ask for basic gaits, as well as possible dropping stirrups.
Lauren said the biggest difference between riding on a college riding team and the riding she did previous to this as a junior is that every class is an equitation class.
“Coming from a competitive jumper barn, and personally never having done the Big Eq, it’s a big change for me,” she said. “Another major variance is that I’m very used to getting on my horse in the morning and prepping him to my liking. During this time, we get to ‘feel each other out,’ and I know what to expect when it is time for competition. In IHSA, you get zero warm-up[,] so you lose that connection with previously knowing how your horse works.”
Before joining SHUET, Lauren rode at the same barn for 14 years, or “essentially [her] whole riding career.” As a result, the individuals at her barn, such as the secretary and trainer, all watched her grow up and into the rider she is today.
“They are my family, and I miss them more than anything!” She said. “It’s especially hard because when I moved from school, I also moved houses. My family chose to move from Long Island to CT … Now when I go home, it does not feel much like home yet, mostly because Stonyhill [Lauren’s old barn] is not right down the road anymore.”
Despite this, Lauren has found positives in her experience thus far on SHUET.
“The individuals I have met through the team are amazing, and some of them I can already tell are going to be my friends for life.”
Lauren said that she and her teammates all work very well together and are very close. But we all know what you’re wondering, is there drama?
“Surprisingly for a team full of competitive equestrian girls, we all get along very well! There is, of course, always going to be a little drama here and there, but for the several weeks I have been a part of this team, it’s very obvious that each of us wants nothing less than the best for each other,” Lauren said. “We are all very supportive and spend a lot of time together both in and out of the saddle.”
Lauren acknowledged that each and every team member has something to bring to the table. This allows them to learn from their coach and one another.
There is one thing that Lauren said is not her favorite about being on an equestrian team: the workouts.
“We have workouts twice a week in the early morning, and as much as I love being fit, I also love my sleep!” She said.
According to Lauren, waking up early is quite different when it is for something that does not involve horses.
While she was competing at the Grand Prix level and even spent all of last winter at WEF, Lauren said that IHSA is not easy.
“[It] really tests how you deal with situations and is also a lot about the luck of the draw! As much as I love jumping big courses, IHSA is, in it’s own way, very challenging, and just because someone is a leading Grand Prix rider, it in no way can foreshadow that they will do well in IHSA.”
Lauren also does not feel she had an advantage over any one else trying out. However, after the years she has spent riding and competing, she did feel confident in her abilities and had hopes that the coach and team would have a need for her qualities.
“Fortunately for Sacred Heart, there is a great amount of talent and a large group of girls who have worked their whole life to make a Division I team like myself. With this being said, during tryouts, I was very nervous that I would not make a spot because there were many other girls trying out for the same position.”
Most of the other girls on the team have done the 3′ or 3’6″ hunters, equitation, or jumpers, according to Lauren. She said there are also some eventers.
Prior to riding for SHUET, Lauren had her horse Armani, who she imported a few years ago. Lauren stated that the SHUET horses are “extremely different” from what she is used to.
“…I have been privilege enough to work with some amazing athletes. What I do value about the IHSA school horses is that they are trying their hardest and want to do well. It is fun riding these horses because they come to us at the end of the summer, and it is our privilege to ride them and watch them improve week by week.”
For riders wanting to earn a spot on a college riding team, Lauren had the following advice:
“I would not worry about it so much! Just focus on competing your junior years on a positive note and learning as much as possible … When college comes around, then evaluate where you are and what you want to do,” she said.
Lauren stressed that IHSA is not for everyone, and a rider should be sure this is what they want to do before they commit to the team. IHSA is about working as a team and wanting to do the best for the team, not just for yourself as an individual rider.
Recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association sent a notice to the National College Equestrian Association that they were considering dropping equestrian as a sport. According to an article on The Chronicle of the Horse, equestrian was classified as an ’emerging sport’ in 2002. It was given 10 years to get 40 schools in the program. The sport experienced growth, but not enough, and NCEA was given an extension to obtain 40 schools. However, as of 2014, only 22 schools are participating – 18 short of the requisite amount. One school, Kansas State University, has already cancelled its equestrian program for the 2014 – 2015 year due to the possible removal of the sport by the NCAA. While the NCAA decision might not go into effect until 2017, equestrians nationwide have begun a petition to help equestrian remain a sport under NCAA guidelines.
Lauren signed the petition and shared it to her Facebook page, in obvious opposition to the removal of equestrian as a sport.
“I feel that it is an awful step back for the equestrian world as a whole. For a sport that tries so hard to become more widely acknowledged, it’s hard to accept the fact that the NCAA would do this,” Lauren said. “…Here at Sacred Heart, our coach has spoken with the Athletic Department, and they vow to still recognize equestrian as a varsity sport even if the NCEA disbands.”
That statement means that nothing would change for SHUET members; however, the team would no longer travel to compete in NCAA tournaments because they would no longer exist. SHUET members would still get student athlete perks, but for schools that choose to remove equestrian from their sports roster, that is not the case.
(Editor’s Note: Since the publication of the article, the NCAA has allegedly “postponed” its vote on removing equestrian as a Division I sport. The Legal Equestrian has been unable to find any official sources confirming this move.)
Finally, we asked Lauren what her goals were for her first year on SHUET. She said she would like to qualify for Zones and possible Nationals for open over fences classes.
“Although that is a difficult objective to achieve, especially as a freshman, I never have been known for being fair-minded and why start now!”
If you are interested in riding on a college equestrian team, but don’t know of schools that have a team, you can go here or here for a list. If you are looking for a Division I or Division II team, click here for a list. For more information on IHSA, you can visit their website.
We would like to thank Lauren for taking the time to speak with us about her experience thus far on SHUET! We wish her luck this year and look forward to seeing her progress.
The Legal Equestrian is based in New Jersey, so for those interested in attending a NJ college with an IHSA team, you can check into the following:
- Centenary College
- Drew University
- Princeton University
- Rider University
- Rutgers University
- Rowan University
- Stevens Institute of Technology
- William Paterson University
New Jersey does not currently have any schools with a Division I or Division II equestrian team.
If you would like to keep up with Lauren, you can find her on Twitter.
All photos are courtesy of Lauren Mahoney. Please do not use without permission.