Without knowing Cassie Vosburgh, her equestrian team jacket and horseshoe necklace make it obvious that horseback riding is her passion.
The Springfield College senior and 15 other women have found their place on the schools equestrian team. Yes, the city school has an equestrian team.
The team is actually seven years old and was originally founded by three riders. Although each member is female, it is open to all genders of any experience level.
“Most people don’t even know that we have a team,” said Vosburgh. The seasoned horseback rider leads the women as their captain.
Vosburgh was introduced to riding horses when she was four. She said the sport was in her blood due to her dad’s earlier experience as a rider.
At seven she met her first horse, Lori. They might not have realized it then, but the two would be companions for life.
Together they trained and competed over the past 14 years, learning everything there is to know about each other, on both a physical and emotional level.
She smiled wide while talking about her noble steed. “He’s my best friend,” Vosburgh said. “We have that communication somehow.”
Her connection with Lori goes deeper than that of an owner and their pet. “There are ways of reading each other. Lori has both a personality and an intuition about me,” she said.
This spring season is full of competition for Vosburgh and her team, only she won’t be riding Lori. In fact, none of the women will be riding the horses they have grown to love.
Instead they will be assigned a horse at the competition. There they have 10 minutes to study the horse while someone else rides it.
The 14-year-old bond between Vosburgh and Lori will not be present as she competes for a spot at nationals.
“I have had the horse since I was seven, and he knows what to do if I freak out,” Vosburgh said. “A horse you just met can’t do that.”
The senior captain takes pride in helping her teammates observe the new horses. “I like the team aspect, showing them what to look for in a horse and how to respond to them. I don’t get that satisfaction when I compete by myself,” she said.
During a competition, the riders prove their versatility by commanding unfamiliar horses through two events. “Flat Class” involves 8 competitors who follow commands given by a judge panel.
The goal is to impress the judges with smooth executions of each command, while staying out from behind the other riders.
The second competition is fence jumping. Four members of the team participate in this event, and they score points based on height and form of the jump.
Between the two events, the team earns cumulative points that will dictate weather or not they compete at regionals, and then on to nationals.
To prepare, the women travel once a week to Heritage Farm in Easthampton, where their beloved horses are waiting to be ridden.
“We do well in comparison to large schools with teams of 50 members,” Vosburgh said. “Between our coaching staff all the members, together we’ve created a huge support group.”
Last fall the team placed third out of eight schools in regular season shows. Starting on Feb. 21, the women will set out for this seasons first competition. They plan to improve their scores and earn a spot at Nationals, this year hosted at the Big E.