Equestrian Club Leaps Into New Season

Club sport tries to gallop past financial burdens and low membership

Despite facing steep costs and time constraints, the members of the Harvard Equestrian Club kicked off their spring semester last night with unbridled enthusiasm and hopes for expanding their membership.

The club will try to get a leg up on the competition at four regional shows and an all-Ivy invitational show coming up later in the semester.

With an often-fluctuating roster of about eight members, the club has riders in all six classes of competition, ranging from the beginner level of walk/trot to the most advanced open level. But due to scheduling difficulties, the club has yet to muster a full set of six riders at a competition.

“Our team is the bootleg team,” said member Bonnie B. Lee ’05, who has attended a dozen shows since joining the club sophomore year. “Other teams have banners, parents, matching jackets.”

Jackets are only one part of the accouterments riders need for shows, and participating in the sport isn’t easy on the wallet. Lessons are $35, and shows require a $20 registration fee and $27 for each class in which a rider competes. The necessary gear—including a helmet, boots, jacket, shirt, and breeches—amounts to almost $1,000. Since riding is a club sport, members foot this bill themselves.

Money isn’t the only self-sufficient aspect of the club. Members also have to find their own transportation to weekly coaching sessions at Ridgetop Farm in Millis, Mass., an hour southwest of Harvard.

The long ride also contributes to the biggest obstacle in club expansion: time.

“Getting out there, getting your horse ready, riding, and doing it all in reverse takes about four hours,” said co-captain Alice S. Bailey ’05. “It’s hard for people to find a four-hour block.”

Thomas G. Beatty ’06 said he has been trying to ride since freshman year, but his classes and riding schedules always overlapped. “I’m getting closer,” he said, regarding his chances of saddling up this spring.

While the club is only accepting new members who have ridden a horse before, the faculty advisor, Senior Associate Secretary to the University Elizabeth A. Gray, said less experienced newcomers could make an immediate impact.

“Riding is a sport in which a beginner with a lot of dedication can make a really strong competitive addition to the team,” Gray said.

When the members reach the competition, they are judged on form, style, and overall aesthetics, according to co-captain Janice C. Jun ’06-’07.

“They also look at the treatment of your horse,” Bailey added. “Even if it looks pretty, if they see you hauling your horse around, you’re not going to do as well.”

Gray said an added challenge comes from the fact that riders are randomly assigned to horses at the beginning of the show.

“The rider really has to pick up the horse’s style and mood, and give really clear signals about what needs to be done,” said Gray. “Horses are very different. You have to psych out the individual horse and do it really fast....It’s a sport where you practice, and [then] compete with a partner whom you’ve never met before.”

Members like Jun and Lee rode in their childhood but stopped as they grew older because their parents were concerned for their safety. They said they jumped at the chance to continue riding at college.

“[Riding] is a love you never outgrow,” Jun said.

As the club looks for an influx of new membership, its performance will depend on an intricate balance of conflicting schedules, financial resources, and transportation arrangements. But the co-captains said they plan to maintain a relaxed style.

“We’re the ragtag team, but we have the most fun,” Lee said.

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at luluzhou@fas.harvard.edu.