Many junior riders dream of being able to represent their college or university of choice; many more dream of being able to attend a college or university that is considered “Division I.”
In order to ride on a Division I equestrian team (or any equestrian team, for that matter), one must go through the rigorous process of tryouts.
We talked with Gabriella (“Gabi”) Sorrentino, a Sacred Heart University freshman and a current member of Sacred Heart University’s Division I Equestrian Team. She gave us the lowdown on what tryouts are like. While every school is different, we thought this perspective would give some insight on what to expect when pursuing a coveted spot on a Division I team.
Gabi, 18, began attending Sacred Heart this past August. She is majoring in Sports Communications and Sports Management.
She chose Sacred Heart not just for availability of her desired major but also because it had a riding team that appealed to her. Additionally, she narrowed her school choice down to those within 6 hours of her home, which is in Maryland.
“I ultimately chose Sacred Heart because I loved the campus, loved the location, knew I was going to have lots of internship opportunities within my major, and was excited for the chance to get to ride and compete on an NCAA [Division I] team,” she said.
Although the Sacred Heart Equestrian Team (“SHUET”) is ranked as Division I, Gabi said she did not take a school’s riding team ranking into account when choosing where to go for her college education.
Gabi has been riding for 14 years and currently owns a horse named Covergirl. Gabi did not bring Covergirl to Connecticut, so Covergirl, or “CG,” has been getting some “well-deserved time off and lots of spa treatments.”
“My little sister has been riding her occasionally and has basically been getting to know her better. She has also had some slight maintenance done,” Gabi said.
As mentioned, to ride on an equestrian team in college, one must attend tryouts. SHUET holds its tryouts over a two-week period where potential team members rode on Saturday and Sunday of both weeks. During the first weekend, potential team members participated in western tryouts. The second week was comprised of hunt seat tryouts. Those interested in participating in tryouts were given a pattern in the beginning of the summer. They had to memorize the pattern and complete it at tryouts.
To prepare, Gabi practiced both patterns at home during the summer on her personal horse, as well as other school horses. She also did the patterns on foot, which she found to be “very helpful.” Additionally, she did no stirrup work, and she also did non-riding work such as running and other forms of working out.
Although Gabi has been riding for a long time, she still felt nervous for tryouts. However, she said it was “more of an excited kind of nervous.”
“I could not wait to meet everyone and all of the horses and get to ride the best I could. I felt some pressure because I didn’t want to forget my pattern, or mess up while riding, but I think the pressure was what kept me so focused and made me even more motivated to ride the best I could,” she said.
Regardless of someone’s riding background in terms of discipline, they have to try out for both hunt seat and western.
It is also worth mentioning that within each discipline, there are different levels, such as Novice, Intermediate, and Open – to name a few.
During tryouts, Gabi said the riding coach focuses on “instructions, morale, form, and positive attitude.”
During tryouts, Gabi was lucky enough to know her strengths and weaknesses. For example, Gabi was strong when it came to riding “unfamiliar” horses due to her IEA experience. She also had some dressage experience, so she felt she was very prepared when it came to the flat work portion of tryouts. As for weaknesses, Gabi knew she had to work on utilizing the whole ring and not leaning forward while jumping (Editor’s Note: I have to work on not leaning forward too!)
Since SHUET is Division I and a good team, Gabi was “a bit” intimidated during tryouts. However, she said meeting everyone and seeing how nice and welcoming they were made it easier and made her less intimdated when it came to participating in tryouts.
Gabi was ultimately chosen to participate on SHUET, and she is competing in hunt seat, specially Novice flat and Intermediate over fences. She described her experience being on the team as “amazing so far.”
“Everyone on the team is so incredibly nice, the girls and coaches were all so welcoming and I am so grateful to be in a group with such amazing young women,” she said. “Even though I have only been on the team for a few months, I already feel like I am a part of the family, it is very comforting and makes the transition from being home to away from home much easier.”
SHUET members lesson twice a week. As for showing, the coach picks each show’s roster “strategically.” According to Gabi, some weeks a member is on the roster whereas other weeks they may not be. Shows are held almost every weekend.
It is rather well-known that members of an equestrian team ride many different horses that are part of college/university riding programs. A rider rarely rides the same horse in a week, and they also switch horses every lesson, something that Gabi loves. She feels this helps a rider become more prepared, versatile, and adjustable.
“Each horse teaches you something different which is very helpful in shows where you can apply what you learned to the horses you draw.”
For those of you unfamiliar with IHSA competitions, they go something like this. A riding team member will draw a random horse. After the draw, the member is not allowed to warm up on the horse. They go into the show ring and compete against multiple other equestrians from different teams on the flat and over fences.
Gabi hopes to be able to qualify for regionals in both of her divisions. She also hopes that her team goes “as far as [they] possible can” and that they “end up on top.”
So, what does a typical day look like for a SHUET member?
On a Wednesday, Gabi does the following:
- Wakes up at 7:15 am for 9 am practice.
- Returns to campus around 11 am or 11:30 am.
- Has class at 12:30 pm to 1:45 pm.
- Has a team meeting at 2:15 pm.
- Has another class from 5 pm to 7:30 pm.
- Attends study hall from 8 pm to 10 pm.
Outside of team practice, Gabi also tries to do cardio exercise once or twice a week. She said that walking around campus has also helped to keep her in shape.
Not only has Gabi found SHUET to be extremely welcoming, but they are also like a family.
“We are all friends and everyone is there to help each other not only with the team, but with school and transition advice,” she said. “Everyone treats each other as [an] equal[,] even though we are all different grades, ages[,] and levels in our riding.”
Another aspect of being on a college equestrian team is having specific apparel. Each team member is given specific clothes to wear for workouts, practice, and for horse shows. Gabi personally thinks that SHUET has “nice” and “beautiful” apparel and feels very lucky that SHUET is able to provide apparel of such great quality.
Finally, Gabi had some advice for those who wish to ride on an equestrian team in college.
“Keep in touch with the coach(es)[;] do not be overbearing, but check-in once in awhile so they know you’re still interested in being a member!” She said. “Attend equestrian open houses/information days! They are super informational[,] and it is a great chance to meet some people on the team, introduce yourself to the coach, and ask lots of questions!”
Once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice, Gabi advised an interested rider to complete all his or her forms on time, “and still keep in touch with the team’s coach so they can keep in touch with you when school starts[.]”