“Heels down!” “Flat back!” “Find a focal point!” “Drop your stirrups!” These commands probably do not mean much to most Mississippi College students, but to the members of the MC equestrian team, they are all too familiar words that Coach Tina Davey uses to turn her team of riders into top competitors.
This team is a huge incentive for its riders and continues to draw in students from all over to come to Mississippi College and ride competitively at one of the most beautiful barns in the country, Providence Hill Farm.
The MC Equestrian team practices at Providence Hill Farm and competes through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association against schools such as Berry College, Georgia State, Mississippi State, University of Georgia, and University of Alabama.
Members on the travel team practice three days a week, work out together at least once a week, and travel to three ISHA competitions each semester as well as compete in local shows.
At each practice, the riders ride one of the team horses and work on building stamina, solidifying their position on the horse, gaining knowledge and skills over jumps, and increasing confidence for the show ring.
Each rider puts in hours and hours each week, all for maybe 15 mins in the show ring. They have just 15 mins to prove to the judge that they know how to ride, 15 mins to show their adaptability and ability to ride a horse they have never been on before, and 15 mins to stand out from all of the other riders and catch that judge’s eye.
A surprising factor about their competitions is that all of the horses they compete on belong to the host school and schools nearby, meaning they are most likely horses that they have never ridden before as the majority of their competitions are in Georgia.
Each rider draws a number that correlates to a horse in that competition and when their class is called, they locate their horse, get on, and walk in the show ring. There is no warm up round and no time to try and figure out this new living, breathing being beneath them.
There are eight different divisions that the MC Equestrian team competes in.
The first two levels are called “flat” classes, which means that there are up to 14 riders on horses in the area at the same time. The judge will have the announcer say different commands to the riders, which determines how the riders control their horses and act. The different gaits of the horses, such as the walk, trot and canter, require the riders to perform in a different manner.
Levels 3-8 include both a flat class and a jumping round. In these rounds, the riders must look at a diagram of the jumps and memorize the order and pattern. They are also given the opportunity to go into the arena and walk the course with their coach to determine how many strides they should tell the horse to take in between jumps.
Each rider will complete their round with as few mistakes as possible while keeping a steady pace and remembering where they are going.
Riders are scored and placed individually in their divisions, and these scores then contribute to an overall team score.
They are a team in a sense because they train, travel, and compete together, but one might say that each rider has their own “teammate” at each practice and competition that they must communicate with an unspoken bond and zero verbal conversation.
They must be humbly confident in controlling a thousand pound animal with the use of their entire bodies to tell their horse what they want them to do from the way they sit, move their hands, and the pressure of their legs.
Clearly being on the equestrian team is more “just sitting there” if it is it ranked at the very top of most dangerous sports, above football, motor cross, even bull riding. It has been said that equestrians need to have the concentration and ability to judge distance like a golfer, the strength and stamina of a hockey player, the artistic flow and ability to make a difficult skill look easy and beautiful like a dancer, and the spatial awareness like a football player.
One might say horseback riding is 20% physical, 80% mental because of the amount of concentration, awareness, and split second decisions and adjusting it requires, all while making the athletically hard look atheistically easy.
While it may be hard, each rider possesses a passion: a passion for what they do, the horses they ride, and the team they are a part of, a passion that drives them to represent MC well and work hard to become eye catching competitors, a passion that makes them truly believe that no hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.
– Hailey Elder, Contributing Writer