Equestrian team excelsOct 06, 2015 03:57PM ● By Steven Hoffman
When Jenny Schmidt was making a decision about which college she wanted to attend, one of the factors that she considered was whether the school offered the opportunity to compete on an equestrian team.
The Shamong, New Jersey native grew up riding horses on the farm next to her family’s house, and she wanted to be able to continue to ride horses and talk to others who shared the interest when she embarked on her college career.
“It meant a lot to me because horses have always meant a lot to me,” Schmidt explained during an interview in September. “I’ve been riding for a long time. It’s a fun thing to do, but it also teaches you a lot.”
For example, caring for and riding horses will teach a person how to be patient and gentle enough to be a calming presence for the horse, but also tough enough to get back up after a fall off the horse.
Today, Schmidt is a senior wildlife conservation major and the president of the University of Delaware’s equestrian team.
The University of Delaware equestrian team is one of the largest club sport teams on the Delaware campus of approximately17,000 people. The equestrian team has between 80 and 100 active members who vary greatly in their skill levels. Some of the team members have never competed in horse shows before, while others, like Schmidt, have some experience as riders. Other team members have a background competing nationally on the A-Circuit.
Every member's riding discipline is different, too, ranging from western pleasure to gaming, eventing to dressage, hunters to jumpers, to simple backyard riding.
Schmidt said that when she was younger, she “played every sport under the sun,” but once she learned how to ride horses, she knew this was the activity for her.
“I liked it because it was different from any other sport that I had tried,” she explained.
One of the major differences, of courses, is having an animal as a teammate. An essential aspect of learning how to ride is mastering the ability to communicate with the horse.
Schmidt is so fond of horses that, as a teenager, she worked and saved up money to purchase her first horse, Cosmo, when she was 17.
“Cosmo was a thoroughbred, but he never raced,” she explained. “That was a highlight for me—training him and riding him. He turned into a pretty good horse.”
Participating on the equestrian team has helped Schmidt as she has progressed through college. At the University of Delaware, she started out in the lowest divisions as a freshman, competing frequently in that year. She moved up two class rankings and finished first individually in the region, second in the zone, and 16th nationally in her class.
As a club sport, the equestrian team is very much on its own to make sure that things run smoothly. This includes accepting the responsibility to conduct searches for and hiring coaches. The team’s coaches include Whitney Carmouche, who is the English team coach, and Amy Freeman, the Western coach.
“We do have an advisor, but it's a student-run club,” Schmidt said, explaining that there are ten executive positions that students serve in, each one with its own responsibilities.
“We have executive meetings, team meetings, and practices once a week,” Schmidt explained.
Add in the strength training and conditioning that many of the team members do, and it's a significant commitment of both time and energy.
The team hosts one home show per semester, and two per school year with other schools from the surrounding areas invited to compete. As a member of the equestrian team, each person is required to attend the home shows that are hosted over the course of the year to make sure that they run smoothly.
Schmidt estimates that she spends at least ten hours a week on equestrian team activities, and it’s time well-spent.
The equestrian team includes both an English team and a Western team. Schmidt explained that in addition to the different tacks and clothing for each style, a key difference between the two is that English team competitors take part in jumps during competitions, while Western team competitors do not. English riding takes many of its traditions and equipment from European mounted military styles, while the western style traces its development to the needs of the cowboys who worked cattle from horseback. The two styles are similar.
“When people start out riding, they usually learn English riding first,” Schmidt explained. “We have a lot of people on the team who do both.”
Schmidt is on the English team, which practices on a farm in Townsend, Del.
The equestrian team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which was founded in 1967 to promote competition for riders of any skill level regardless of financial status. More than 300 colleges compete in four disciplines: hunter equitation, equitation over fences, western horsemanship and reining.
During the horse shows, the riders are judged on the presentation and how well they ride the horse. Each rider is randomly paired with a horse through a random drawing. Schmidt explained that there might be a few notes written down about each horse to help the riders, but that's all. One of the challenges of the competition is for each rider to make the necessary adjustments to work well together with the horse.
The equestrian team is consistently strong, and a perennial contender in its region.
“We've been regional champions four out of five years,” Schmidt explained.
The team president emphasized that success is measured by more than simply first place finishes at horse shows. With each person starting the season at a different skill level, it’s also important, she said, for every member to advance their skills during the course of the next year.
One illustration of a team member improving is McKenzie Culotta, who joined the equestrian team having never participated in a horse show. Culatta went to the first show and had a strong finish. She then kept improving throughout the rest of the season.
“Having everyone progress is what will make me happy,” Schmidt said.
In addition to competitions, the equestrian team members also organize social events, like riding on the trails at Fair Hill, to build camaraderie among the members.
When Schmidt arrived on the University of Delaware campus more than three years ago, she wasn't sure what she wanted to major in. Then she took an Introduction to Wildlife Conservation course and just like that she found her calling.
“When I took that class, it was exactly what I wanted to learn about,” she explained.
In addition to majoring in wildlife conservation, Schmidt is minoring in environmental humanities, which looks at how people connect with the environment around them. She has enjoyed her time at the University of Delaware, and one reason for that is the opportunity to participate on the equestrian team. She is looking forward to what the 2015-2016 season holds.
“I'm really excited about this year,” Schmidt said.
For more information about the University of Delaware equestrian team, visit the team's Facebook page.