Alexus Morgan Munn sails over rails during Stanford show. Photo courtesy of Anne Lingard.

UC Santa Cruz’s equestrian club is preparing for its next competition on Jan. 31 in Pleasanton. Each week, all 14 members commute to Watsonville to meet with coach Cassie Belmont for lessons. There’s a catch though; in competitions, members aren’t allowed to ride their own horses.

“You draw names out of a hat because it’s an advantage to be on a horse you know,” said club vice president Tara Parcella. “This type of horse show is different than anything else in the horse world to allow for greater participation.”

The UCSC equestrian team, founded in 2000, is a coed club sport that competes within the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). IHSA’s main goal is to allow any college student to participate in equestrian-themed activities, despite individual riding ability or financial status.

“We are judged on our body position mainly, which is what equitation is,” Parcella said. “You’re then judged on your effectiveness as a rider. The judge will give you a test and you’re judged on how effectively you make it happen.”

The 14-person team consists of equestrian riders and a smaller group that rides as the dressage team. Dressage, or “horse ballet,” is more of a show, known for the top hats and coattails worn by riders. In dressage, both rider and horse are judged on their ability to perform specific movements, while equestrianism is completely about the rider and his or her competency on the horse while performing a set of tasks asked by the judge.

“Riding is such an individual sport, it’s usually you and your horse, but it’s a team sport here and that’s a really cool aspect,” said team co-captain Madeline Appel. “Everyone wants everyone to do well. Everyone cheers if someone falls off and gets back up.”

Stanford is the front-runner in UCSC’s region, with its other opponents being UC Davis, Cal Poly, University of Santa Clara, Sonoma State, UC Berkeley and College of the Sequoias. The top two schools, UC Davis and Stanford, both have campus facilities and are very competitive teams, said team president Jessalyn Eernisse.

In the IHSA, the competitions are based on team scoring, during which one participant from each class is chosen to represent the team. For each competition there are two divisions, the “fences” class and the “flat” class.

In the “fences” class, each rider individually competes in a jumping course over obstacles, while “flat” class participants are judged together to demonstrate their ability to handle their horse and stand out. Each division includes novice, intermediate and open — or advanced — classes.

“What’s cool about the IHSA, the umbrella that all the teams are under, is that there are a bunch of different categories depending on skill level,” vice president Parcella said. “Some are over fences, some are jumping, some are just walk-trot, but they are all worth the same amount of points. So if someone wins in the higher division and the lower division, the points allotted are equal. It includes everyone the same.”