Starting university represents a huge lifestyle change for many people: living away from home for the first time, constant partying, managing your own studies, making new friends. And for many horsey people, starting uni also means leaving horses and riding behind, whether that means selling your beloved equine partner, or leaving them to be looked after at home while you start your new life. However, there is a way to get your horsey fix amidst the parties and the library sessions. Most universities have equestrian clubs which run both teams and lessons for all levels of riding. Where I am at Edinburgh University, the Equestrian Club has 50 members and runs four teams against other universities in Scotland, where we compete to qualify for regionals and then the National championships.
Getting a place on teams is very competitive and we train every week either on the flat or jumping at a nearby riding school. It’s a great experience and a great leveller; the riding school ponies vary a lot in behaviour and ability and our training teaches us to quickly tune into each horse in order to get the best we can out of them, a valuable skill in the equestrian industry. While training in our younger days has always been focused on improving the horse and rider as a partnership, this is fully about the rider and how to make the most of every horse, which I think improves your skills immensely. At BUCS (British University and College Sport) competitions, each team competes against three other teams in the same league, riding first a dressage test on an unknown horse, and then a round of showjumps on another horse. Each horse competes four times with a member of each team, and the riders of the same horse are then marked against each other in a penalty points system, with the rider who has done the best on each horse receiving the fewest penalties. Before competing, each rider has only minutes to warm up and get used to the new horse before being thrust into the judge’s scrutiny. Collective marks are awarded for Effectiveness of Aids, Influence of Rider on Horse, and Preparation and Accuracy, as well as the usual dressage and style jumping marks.
Competitions are run by enthusiastic volunteers: I actually enjoy running a competition just as much as riding in one, and it provides you with invaluable organisational skills. Training and competing is such a fun way to get away from the buzz and stress of uni life, and it also gets you out of the city for a while, which for someone who has grown up with horses far away from city life is essential for sanity! It’s also a great way to get to know other stranded equestrians and make lifelong friends. Our teams are so close that we often stay good friends for long after the teams have been changed around, and this provides a great excuse to get out and do more horse related things while at uni, for instance I have started volunteering at our local RDA with some of my equestrian club friends. If you’re heading to university for the first time this September, or if you’re missing the community spirit and fun of the equestrian world, I would definitely recommend joining your university’s Equestrian Club as a way to stay in touch with your horsey roots.