Martha Gustavson jumps at an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition on Oct. 16. Since UCSC has no horses or equestrian training facilities, the equestrian team goes to Watsonville to practice for competitions. Photo courtesy of Dana Frederick.

Members of the equestrian team travel 14 miles from UCSC to Watsonville in order to find what they don’t have on campus: a training facility, horses and a coach.

The team hired Cassie Belmont, who also coaches the Monte Vista Christian School horse riding program, this year.

For Martha Gustavson, third-year Cowell student and captain of the team, this marks an important shift in the team’s development.

“It makes it easier to be more of a team, because they can all ride together every day,” Gustavson said. “They can work with the coach as much as they want.”

Belmont has offered the team the opportunity to use the school’s facility in Watsonville at almost half the price of a normal lesson, which she said ranges from $50 to $60 per day.

“Here I have a pretty big program, and so I’m offering [the team] a reduced fee so they can come and ride,” Belmont said. “I have lots of horses. It’s a good partnership.”

Each member of the team pays for his or her own riding lessons. Training is required in order to compete at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) championships.

In the IHSA competition, the teams are not asked to own a horse. Instead, in each show, they are provided with horses owned by the association. This form of competing means smaller expenses than in a normal horse show, in which the rider must bring a horse to each competition.

While riders fund their own training, Gustavson said that the equestrian team receives some support from the university, which pays for transportation, horse show fees and team apparel.

Other state universities, like UC Davis — one of the few public universities with a barn — had to get rid of more than half of the school’s horses due to budget cuts, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Belmont said schools like Stanford are hard to compete against because “they have a very high-quality facility on the campus and lots of really fabulous horses for their students to practice on.”

In a couple of weeks, UCSC’s team will face well-equipped teams like Stanford, as well as the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Santa Clara, among others.

Second-year Sarah Dennis, a new team member, noted the difference in UCSC’s equestrian program compared to others.

“We’re one of the only teams that doesn’t have [an on campus facility],” Dennis said.

Formed in 2001 by former College Eight student Allison Alrich, the team has struggled to grow. UCSC’s team remains as one of only two within the UC — along with UC Davis.

“We only had six competitors on our team in these shows, against teams with over 40 competitors,” Alrich said in an e-mail. “We knew we were a brand-new team and we wanted to make a lasting and positive impression at the IHSA.”

The team continues to improve, as seen at its last competition, in which it got two second place finishes: one for the open varsity rider and the other for the intermediate rider in jumping class. But the team is not quite where Belmont thinks it should be.

“It would help if they didn’t have to drive 40 minutes to take a lesson,” Belmont said. “These girls could be champions if they could only practice.”