Editor’s Note: Lifestyles Editor Hannah Amos and Hunter Jumper Equestrian Club President Alyssa Ford are roomates. Amos recused herself from the editing process of this story as a result.
On competition days, Indiana college equestrian teams arrive with a handful of horses in tow. Prior to each class, riders draw from a small collection of available horses. If they’re lucky, the horseshoe, popsicle stick or any other object on hand will partner them with a steed their team supplied; a horse they’re more familiar with. For Ball State University’s Hunter Jumper Equestrian Club (HJEC), some names members are hoping to draw include Leo, Church, Finn and Frito.
The drawings at competitions take place to help make competitions more fair. With the wide variety of horses, there are varying levels of training and experience among them.
Most of the team’s shows take place in the fall semester each year, making this the team’s busiest time, with some back-to-back show weekends.
Some of the colleges the team competes against include Indiana University, Purdue and IUPUI, as well as Butler, who occasionally do combined practices with Hunter Jumpers. Most recently, the team attended a competition hosted by IUPUI in Atlanta, Indiana.
HJEC is made up of a wide spectrum of levels of riders. These levels include introductory, pre-novice, novice, limit, intermediate and open.
Hannah Hartman is the team’s trainer and attended Ball State herself for both her undergraduate and graduate degree in accounting. This is Hartman’s third year working with the team, and she has about 12 years of riding experience.
“One thing that’s unique about the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association) is it is open and encouraged to have beginner as well as advanced riders, and all the different positions, even the walk-trots, those points count just as much as your open division,” Hartman said. “So seeing that camaraderie, that teamwork is also very rewarding.”
Fourth-year general studies major Melissa Coons started riding around the time she started elementary school, taking after her father who was in an equestrian club from a young age.
Coons has noticed a decrease in the amount of people who enjoy riding, partially contributing to her motivation to join the team.
“Joining the team, obviously, I would be surrounded by people who have the same interest as me,” Coons said. “For me, when I go to the barn, you kind of forget everything and you just ride.”
The team practices the English discipline of riding, as opposed to Western. Hartman explained that in English, the rider is a lot more close contact with the horse, due to the smaller saddle.
Controlling an animal as large as a horse requires knowledge of commands and knowing how to communicate with them.
“There are a lot of cues that you can give horses, with the reins as one point and then your legs as another. When you ask for transitions, you’re gonna be using your legs and then supporting with your hands,” Coons said. “All horses are different, but simply put, it’s just keeping them between your legs.”
One of the things Coons enjoys about being a part of a team is being able to better manage the development in her riding.
“For me, I really like noticing that I have a challenge and then overcoming it and being better. It makes me really happy when I notice that I might not have been doing so great, and then I visibly improve,” Coons said.
The mutual support that takes place on the team is something Coons values about being a member of HJEC. She also echoed Hartman’s statement about the variance in levels of riders that are welcome to join.
“Whenever somebody places well or maybe they had a bad ride, we’re all there for each other, so it’s really nice in that way,” Coons said. “All levels of riders are [welcome]. We have somebody that just started learning how to ride horses. So [there’s] beginner, never having ridden before, all the way up to my girls who have been riding their whole lives.”
Hartman appreciates the impact she gets to have on her students’ lives. She aims to challenge them both as riders and as individuals.
“I truly believe that horses and riding make good, hardworking, kind, empathetic people, and I love being able to facilitate the opportunities for riders of all walks of life,” Harman said.
Alyssa Ford is the president of HJEC this year and has been riding horses since she was five years old.
“We get people who have only had six months under their belt, we’ve had people that have no riding experience before and we have people who have been riding their whole life. So, It's really nice because it doesn’t matter what level you are as long as you’re passionate about horses,” Ford said.
The team is entirely student run, which puts more responsibility on riders compared to some of their competitors. On top of practice and competitions, board members are responsible for keeping up with things like bookings and paperwork.
“We have a fantastic board. I am very grateful for our president Alyssa Ford. She does a phenomenal job organizing the girls and bringing them all together,” Hartman said. “I’m excited with the level of enthusiasm that she has brought to the table. It’s something I haven’t seen in past years, and I think that she’s getting to mold the freshmen now, and I think it will be a legacy that she gets to pass onto the team.”
For those hesitant to join, for any reason, Coons hopes more people hear about the team and feel welcome and encouraged to join the “small but mighty” team, according to their mission statement.
“Just try it. Come ride, even if you have zero experience. It’s not scary. A lot of people think about joining the team, and they see girls who have been riding their whole lives, and they might get a little intimidated, but it’s not like that,” Coons said. “If anything we really support our new riders, and we’re so happy for them and all the accomplishments that they make, so I wish that more people would come out and see what we’re about.”
More information regarding the club can be found on their Instagram @bsuhunterjumpers.
Contact Ella Howell with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.