The sun has yet to rise from behind the horizon and illuminate the sleepy campus of Springfield College. It is still a peaceful morning, and only the sounds of nature and an occasional vehicle disrupt the silence. That is, until junior Megan Silvia’s alarm goes off. Silvia is not just an early riser. She is the captain of the Springfield College Equestrian Club, and her team has a horse show to compete in.
“We wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to these horse shows,” Silvia said. “We get to watch the sunrise together.”
They may be a club sport, but these horse riders are nothing if not devoted. Although their roster fluctuates from semester to semester, they average between 12 to 15 members. This semester, they had closer to 19 women on the club roster, which is a testament to the atmosphere they have created.
“We like to call ourselves a team because it makes people feel like they’re a part of something,” Silvia said. “It makes all the girls feel like they’re actually connected.”
Horse shows may be more of an individual endeavor, but each person’s points go into an overall team score as well. In a sport dominated by the relationship between a rider and their horse, it is this team element that provides an extra boost of confidence.
“You really need a real support system,” Silvia said. “It always feels better when you have a team behind you.”
That support system includes both newcomers and experienced riders. Silvia has been riding since she was 4-years-old, but she said that some members walk on without ever having ridden before. Anyone is welcome to saddle up and join the team.
Competing in horse shows is a very technical performance sport, where the smallest movements can lead to either success or a subtraction of points. If a rider bends their horse incorrectly, goes too fast or too slow, holds his or her hands the wrong way, or slouches in his or her posture, it can result in a deduction.
“It’s a lot more technical than people realize. There’s a lot running through your head when you’re out there, and there’s a lot that can go wrong,” Silvia said. “You and your horse have to be working in unison.”
These minute details alone make horse shows an imposing challenge for the SC riders to successfully navigate. Now, imagine meeting all of those technical skills riding an unfamiliar horse.
“It’s a random horse draw. So, you don’t know what horse you’re going to pick. It’s from a pool of numbers and you pick numbers and you get horses,” Silvia said. “Pretty much you just have to hop on a horse and go jump a course of fences without having ridden it before or knowing anything about it, which is incredibly challenging.”
Riding a new horse every competition adds the element of surprise. It is a luck of the draw format, but with enough skill, riders can put in a good showing regardless of the horse they get.
“Right when you get on and you enter the arena, those first few times around walking, you have about 30 seconds to figure out what you’re going to do,” Silvia said. “You get good at it after awhile.”
The shows are a great experience for new riders and can also benefit experienced riders, such as co-captain and sophomore Erica Lenseth, who has been riding since she was 5-years-old.
“It made me a better rider over the past year and a half just because I’ve been judged and taught how to actually ride and control the horse,” Lenseth said.
Every week, or twice a week if any of the riders want to pay themselves, they go to Heritage Farm in Easthampton, Mass. to ride horses for an hour. Their status as a club does not grant them the funding to go more than once without paying extra.
“There really is no better way to prepare than just riding a bunch of horses and learning how to change your riding style based on the horse,” Silvia said.
Only getting to ride once a week puts the club in a huge disadvantage with some of their competitors that have varsity teams and get to ride three to four times a week. The club also cannot require team lifts.
“As a club we compete really, really strongly considering we don’t have a lot of riding time,” Silvia said. “It’s pretty much unheard of that you only get to ride once.”
According to Silvia, the team was finishing in fourth place pretty consistently out of around nine or 10 teams, including riders from UMass, Mount Holyoke and Smith College. They just had their last horse show of the semester on March 9, except for Regionals, which riders have to qualify to compete in.
This year three SC riders qualified for Regionals, which are the first step of additional horse shows. Next are Zones, and then Nationals.
Seniors Katharyn Parini and Siana Green, and Silvia all qualified and will be competing on March 30 at Smith College. No SC rider has ever made it to Zones before, a goal the three teammates will try to reach.
First, they must reset their alarm clocks for 5 a.m. After all, they have a sunrise to catch.