For the third consecutive year, the Sonoma State University Equestrian team competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association's (IHSA) National Championship in Lexington, Kentucky, on May 4. English Captain Taylor Lesser and Safety Officer Nicole Luters received honorable mentions in the Novice Flat and Advanced Walk, Trot, Canter portions.
"It's kind of like all semester is the regular season, regionals are the playoffs, and now we just had the World Series," says publicity officer Holly Hay. "Taylor and Nicole worked so hard for so long to get to nationals, we're all so proud of them."
The road to nationals is a long one, and requires plenty of time and energy. Riders must practice at least twice a week -- three times per week leading up to the National Championship event. First, SSU competes with other colleges in Northern California. Then, if they score high enough, the team advances to compete with the top riders in their zone, followed by regional competition. The top two regional riders then advance to the National Championship.
At the National Championship, Luters and Lesser both competed on horses they had never ridden before, demonstrating a basic understanding of how to lead a horse and execute precise movements without struggling with their horse.
"Horses are like people," says Hay. "They all have personalities, and some need more persuading than others to turn a certain direction or go a certain speed. That's why IHSA is so difficult, we get no time to practice with these horses. We just get on and go." Last year, SSU student Sarah Villasenor placed ninth at Nationals.
The SSU Equestrian Team is a student club started by SSU student Shira Rebibo in 2012. Riders practice at Petaluma Hill Stables, where stable owner Carrie Hover provides the horses used for practice.
The team includes both the English and Western groups. Both have different historical significance, riding styles, and attire. English riders wear traditional riding boots, tan riding pants and black jackets. The Western team dresses in vibrant, bedazzled collared shirts and cowboy boots. The Western team also does not jump their horses.
At its annual Spring Spectacular on April 30, the team raised $900 to help cover travel expenses to get to Kentucky. A total of 11 local amateur riders came out and competed for fun. "There's no official score," says Hay. "It's a fundraiser we do because it's enjoyable and it allows us to reach out to the local community."