Illustration by Maren Sloboda
Illustration by Maren Slobody

The UC Santa Cruz equestrian club trotted out a squad of beginners at the Stanford show last fall. Next season, the club hopes to gallop into nationals, one leaped fence at a time.

Captain Dana Frederick and co-captain Lily Pearson find it to be a novel position for the team, who have found the club to have too few riders to compete with bigger schools. Pearson believes the team is now cohesive in their search for riding glory.

“I think the team is definitely getting a lot more competitive,” Pearson said.

The UCSC equestrian club has found enough members to fill all divisions because of an increased outreach. The club features 14 regular competing members out of 23 total, a strong base when compared to only five returners from last season.

In contrast with past years, there is more inter-club competition for the equestrian club, something the captains and coaches have encouraged with the turnout.

In previous years, the club has vied against Cal Poly, UC Davis and Stanford, with no hope of beating these schools in the overall club score event. They could not rack enough points with so few riders.

With some new members testing the competitive waters of equestrian show and general horseback riding, the competitive drive of each member varies. However, the 11 year old team now finds itself in an enviable position, the co-captains said.

Riders may find that practicing equestrian can be an expensive undertaking. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) requires all riders to practice once a week, while riders pay $35 per lesson for training with the coach. Club captain Dana Frederick found the structure of individual lessons to be a issue in rider retention and in creating a team mentality.

“Previously, everyone was on their own to meet the one lesson per week requirement,” Frederick said. “On top of that, we would try to meet monthly for a team lesson.”

This year, the club consistently holds weekly team practices together and has done so since week two of Fall 2012.

“We’re really focused on building a team,” Dennis said.

The club has a chance to compete against larger west coast college clubs. Some schools like UC Davis feature 30 regular members for their dressage team alone.

“This year is the first we have people who are noncompetitive because we have enough people to fill all the divisions,” Dennis said.

Equestrian divisions are based on a rider’s experience and specific skill set. Riding divisions refer to the type of obstacle setup on the course. Courses are either set up to represent a typical horseback hunting trip in the “huntseat” event, or to show off one’s show jumping skills in the “jumpseat” competition.

Most of the shows for which the team practice are held in the first two academic quarters, this year being the second year that UCSC hosted a show at coach Cassie Belmont’s barn at the Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville. Other barns where shows are held include Stanford, UC Davis and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

The last academic quarter will be when the IHSA holds post-regulation season events, including regionals and nationals.

Because of how new the club is, captain Dana Frederick shook her head and laughed at the prospect of nationals for UCSC’s only equine based sports club.

“Unfortunately, Stanford usually has that one in the bag,” Frederick said.

Dennis noted several members who could trot, canter and jump into nationals including herself, Dana Frederick, Susan Fredericks and Allyson Burkholder. Last year, Megan Forgie finished fourth in the flat novice division, according to the IHSA website.

Dennis said a spot in nationals may be certain for these individual riders, who will represent the rising standards of the UCSC equestrian team May 2– 5 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, also according to the IHSA website.

Every other rider will just have to wait to bust out their trotting skills.