On Tuesdays and Fridays early in the morning in Andrews parking lot, athletes clad in knee-high leather boots and breeches convene to participate in the oldest, founding sport of our college. “Aggh! My boots are so tight!” said one of them as she barely made it to the meeting point, falling over as she tried to sit down.
“You have to break them in!” another reminded her.
“Breaking in new boots is the worst!”
The equestrian team, which consists of only three riders this year, Victoria Zawadzki (‘15), Camille Palladino (‘17), and Miko Tiu-Laurel (‘18), piled into a van driven by their coach, Lori Rakoczy. They drove just about ten minutes away to the Equestrian Center at Lakeview Farm to practice horseback riding. The strikingly low number of participants this year seemed to reflect some candid impressions of the team, received from various individuals around campus: “What does equestrian mean?” asked Amanda Lau (‘17); “Wow! We have a horse riding team! I didn’t know that!” said Bryn Bogart (‘15).
Commenting on the low turnout coach Rakoczy explained, “This is my 18th year coaching and for a long time we had a roster of like 13-15 people...I’ve lost a few graduating seniors, I’ve got two members abroad, and a few that just didn’t come back this year.”
Horseback riding can seem somewhat arcane to those who are not somehow involved in it. Coach Rakoczy said, “You don’t just sit there, you use so much of your core, you’ve got to stay on the horse while also keeping proper form...It’s great for physical therapy because of how riders have to use every muscle on their body.”
The team warmed up with some sitting trots around the riding hall as coach Rakoczy stood at the center directing them, telling one of the riders,“I want to see you stretch your leg more! You got stuck with your leg up at that last show,” filling the building with her voice. They broke for a moment and then moved onto some cantering around the hall as she continued to direct them, “Remember: form affects function! Your stance on horses affects how the horse moves and thinks.”
Eventually they worked up to cantering through an obstacle course made up of cross-bars and various vertical bars.“Different people get along with different horses...every horse responds to riders differently,” explained Rakoczy. She looked over to a rider whose horse was trying to knock him off and shouted, “[The horse] starts out cranky and resisting! He’ll test you and try to get you off him.”
“It’s a bit different from other sports like soccer and basketball,” Rakoczy explained, “it’s a performance […] At shows, riders have to exhibit proper form which, by extension, allows them to exhibit proper function in riding […] they have to make everything look effortless when going through the course... a judge gives them points and this decides who wins.”
Rakoczy expressed great confidence in the abilities of Zawadzki, Palladino, and Tiu-Laurel to succeed in future competitions. “There are around 400 plus schools with equestrian teams; we used to regularly compete with national champions…We were the only team to beat them in three years,” she explained. “I think that they’ll all reach regional championships, I know Victoria will from the points she’s received from previous shows...the real goal would be for them to qualify for national championship.”