The High Costs of Being an Equestrian

  Sarah Lawrence equestrian team member Rachel Lit.   Photo courtesy of Go Gryphons

Sarah Lawrence equestrian team member Rachel Lit. Photo courtesy of Go Gryphons

A traditional Friday morning for a Sarah Lawrence equestrian team member is waking up to a 7:10 AM alarm, shutting it off before waking up your roommate, rolling out of bed, putting on tan breeches and knee-high leather boots, and rushing over to Andrews parking lot to get on the van that leaves at 7:34. By 8:05, all the team members have mounted their horses and start their hour-long practice. The van returns to SLC by 9:20 and then the members can start the rest of their day. Equestrian is a commitment, but the students who participate, love the sport. But the sport faces other problems besides early morning Fridays for practice and weekends for competition. 

The sport has a lack of recognition from the administration and student body. Many people don’t even know that equestrian exists on this campus, even though we are the oldest sports team at the school. In fact, we are the founding team of the athletics department. The nominal attention equestrian receives pales in comparison to other sport teams.  Over the past two years, equestrian team members have been chosen only seven times out of the 153 student athlete of the week recognitions, as opposed to men’s basketball which has been chosen 18 times, and swim that has been noted 30 times. However, the equestrian team garners more outside reputation, in regards to awards, than any other SLC team. This year alone, the team has won 54 ribbons and had one qualifier for regionals.

This year’s success is not unique for the team.  Historically, SLC equestrian has done extremely well. In 2011, the team beat the three-year undefeated national champions, Centenary College. The SLC sports page reported at that time, “Gryphons beat out reigning national-champion Centenary College at an IHSA All-Region Show. The feat marked the Cyclones’ only regular-season defeat in a three-year period.” In addition, riders have competed at the national level, including Miranda Scott ‘92 and Liz Stitzel ‘09. Team coach, Lori Rakoczy, has been the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Zone 3 Region 3 Coach of the Year twice in the past fifteen years.

Why, then, is equestrian an underrated sport? This may have to due with the fact that equestrian is not a part of NCAA Division III. Instead, it belongs to IHSA, which is a separate division only for equestrian competition at the collegiate lev

While NCAA is well known, the prestigious IHSA, founded in 1967, is relatively unheard of on this campus. This divisional separation comes off as exclusionary, and it is not the only area where equestrian is perceived as such. 

In general, equestrian is stereotyped as an upper-class sport. This assumption is due to the sport’s costliness, both recreationally and competitively. The same is true on the college level. Although equestrian may have more awards than other SLC sports, it also has more out-of-pocket costs. An average annual amount for a SLC student to participate in equestrian totals a whopping $1435. This number comprises lessons and equipment. Lessons, which are at an off-campus location, estimate $935. Although, students may share shirts and helmets, they need to procure their own boots and pants for weekly practices. The school does not stipend or subsidize these costs, but does pay for the show fees.

This is a daunting price tag for most students and is a deterrent for recruiting new members to join. But, it is also a hardship on those who are already on the team. Throughout the years, several, teammates have had to quit the year-round sport in the second semester due to the financial burden. The financial commitment thus creates an economic disparity of those who are and those who are not in a position to be on the team. 

In the past, the equestrian team has pursued fundraising events, such as Valentine’s Day roses and candy grams. This year, the team sold candy boo-grams for Halloween, but did not raise enough money to cover one full lesson for each member of the team. It is an unfortunate reality, where although equestrian is an established high cost sport, it has translated as exclusionary and discriminatory to lower-income students on SLC’s campus. Our school preaches the ideals of inclusion, but this has to be extended to financials in the sport’s department as well.

Rachel Lit '19 and Andrea Cantor '17