Riding In Style: Dressage

Harvard upperclassmen often advise incoming freshman that the single most important thing to remember first semester is not to take on too much.

But their advice is unheeded by freshman Olivia Benowitz, actress, makeup artist, and founder of Harvard’s newest club sport, the Dressage Team.

It all began with an attempt to join the equestrian team.

Benowitz found the team only rides “hunter jumper,” quite a different discipline from the dressage she was used to.

“Music is to the piano and violin as riding is to hunter jumper and dressage,” equestrian team captain Janice Jun said. “Hunter jumper is jumping, but it’s a very specific, immaculate form.”

The oldest branch of the equestrian disciplines, dressage is based on ancient Greek horsemanship as well as Renaissance pageants and training of warhorses.

Riders use the natural movements of horses to create dance, using aids to signal the horse to walk, trot, or cantor.

“It is a very gentle art,” Benowitz said. “The movements are natural, not contrived. There is a connection between the horse and the rider, who uses only slight movements to move the horse.”

The new team, an offshoot of the equestrian club, is running into many roadblocks. There are no barns in the immediate area. The equestrian team travels an hour and a half to reach their practice location with minimal transportation available.

In addition, money is hard to come by. The equestrian team receives a meager $400 a year, while required to pay $180 a month for lessons, $50 per show, and at least $300 for show clothing.

“The interest is there,” Jun said. “We had 20-30 people at the beginning, now we only have ten, mostly because of money.”

Regardless of this setback, both teams are supportive of each other and are hoping to excel this season. The equestrian team has said it will do financially what it can.

The financial future may be unclear for this young team, but Benowitz continues to push forward and has met with the Ann Radcliffe Grant committee as well as the Undergraduate counsel.

“The goal of this team is to make it possible for Harvard students to ride, regardless of cost,” Benowitz said. “I truly believe that equestrian sports is one of the most rewarding and beautiful sports and arts that there is.”

Although still in this infant stage, Benowitz’s hard work has already paid off: the dressage team had its first competition last weekend, in which she placed sixth in the introductory level, and co-captain Jennifer Anttonen placed third in the training level.

All three team members competed, but with its new spurt in membership to twelve, in the future, riders will have to take turns riding, as only four are able to ride in each show. With only two shows left in this fall season, this Sunday and November 19th, many will have to wait until February to get their chance.

According to Jun, all those interested will get that opportunity, as the team will continue to progress.

“Olivia and Jennifer have high energy, they know what point they want to get to. Given their passion I really think that they can get there.”