Equestrian team prepares for first hunt show of season

Riders are saddling up on Truman State University’s Equestrian Team for the first hunt show of the season.

The show will take place Oct. 8-9 at the University Farm. Truman participates in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, an organization of about 400 colleges and 10,000 riders throughout the United States and Canada.

The IHSA promotes competition for riders of all skill levels, who compete individually and as teams at regional, zone and national levels, according to ihsainc.com. The association was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of their financial status or riding level, and it emphasizes learning, sportsmanship and fun, according to ihsainc.com.

Equestrian Team coach Emily Costello says the team has riders from every type of riding background. Costello says students’ experience ranges from none to experience showing their own horses or participation in barrel racing, speed events, cross country riding or hunter-jumper events.

“We really value riders across the spectrum in terms of their riding experience and their background,” Costello says. “We need all of those riders to be part of our team so that they can not only do well individually, but also for our team.”

Costello says the shows combine individual sport elements with team elements. She says there are different levels. Riders in each level earn individual points, she says, while the coach chooses one rider from each level whose points go toward the overall team score.

Costello says the difference between the type of show is the type of saddle used. At Western or stock shows, Costello says each class has rail work and a pattern to complete. She says the patterns become more intricate with higher divisions. Fence jumping is a component of the English and hunt shows by riders of a high enough level, she says, where they are judged on their fluidity.

Costello says the team travels throughout the school year to horse shows within the region, which consists of Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Iowa and eastern Kansas. The school hosting the show provides the horses, she says, meaning riders do not know the horses they will be riding until they draw horses. She says riders are judged on equitation — how correctly they ride the horse — and their ability to control an unfamiliar animal.

Costello says the team can travel with horses if the hosting school is short a couple horses, because Truman owns their own horses, but she says not having to always travel with their own horses keeps the program affordable.

Costello says riders move up in divisions individually based on the points they gain throughout the regular season. After the regular season, riders who moved up a division compete against each other at regional competitions. Winners from the regional competitions move on to zone competitions — which include riders from a larger section of the country — and winners of the zone competitions move on to national competitions. Costello says Truman’s team normally has one or two riders make it to nationals each year. This year, nationals will take place during the first weekend in May at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Costello says there are many sponsors at nationals who provide educational and professional information to riders who want to continue in the industry. She says students involved in the team normally don’t become professional riders but keep horses in their life as a hobby or have a career associated with horses in some aspect.

“Truman is just not set up to produce a lot of riders and trainers,” Costello says. “We are set up to produce professionals who might also like horses.”

Costello says she has been coaching the team for 10 years. Costello was a Truman student when the coach position became available, and she was hired right after graduation. She says she also teaches equine-related courses.

Senior Molly Gustafson, Equestrian Team president, says she joined the team her freshman year and has been able to make her experience as president into what she personally wanted to accomplish. Gustafson says she focused on developing the showing team, making it an open team for all levels and increasing openness.

Gustafson says she had an extensive riding career before Truman. She says a big factor in choosing Truman was the team and the ability to bring her own horse, Riley, to Truman because Truman allows students to board horses.

Gustafson says the team practices Monday through Friday at 4:30 p.m. but has a flexible schedule to fit student needs. She says the team has 70 members who get to ride two to three times a week to preserve the workload of the horses. Members are expected to complete six practices in the two weeks leading up to horse shows, she says.

Gustafson says her favorite aspect of the team is the horse shows, because she enjoys seeing riders accomplish their goals.

“I love getting to watch a girl get on a horse she may have never ridden before, and go in and accomplish all the skills and all the traits we’ve been working on,” Gustafson says. “I love seeing that gratification of ‘I put the work into it, and here’s what I got out of it.’”

She says she especially loves when competitions are hosted at Truman because Truman’s horses get to interact with new riders. Gustafson says the University Farm has about 30 horses, but only about 15 are involved in shows, while the rest are too young, retired horses or used for other purposes.

“This sport would be nothing without our horses, and I think that’s how you distinguish a real horse person from someone else — the appreciation for horses,” Gustafson says. “I feel so blessed we have an incredible herd of horses I could ride on any given day and every single one of them has a little special place in my heart.”

Gustafson says the team is not accepting new members during the show season, but after midterm break anyone interested should reach out to Gustafson or Costello.

This article appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of the Index.