Clubbin’: The Equestrians

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In the latest installment of Clubbin’, Bwog brings the athletically ambivalent another reason to get off their ass. This week, Esoteric Sports Bureau Chief, Carolyn Ruvkun, escapes the bustling city for the rural refuge of the Garret Mountain Equestrian Center in West Paterson, New Jersey.

Stumbling back to your room early one Sunday morning, you may have spotted a group of girls outfitted in riding garb looking infinitely more composed. They’re probably members of the Columbia University Equestrian Club, heading to an IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) competition. Captain Julia Caine, BC ’12, recounts, “we wake up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 AM on Sunday mornings for horse shows. A lot of times I’ve run into people coming home from their Saturday night outings as I leave for the day.” Members also travel to the Garret Mountain Equestrian Center 40 minutes away for weekly lessons.

Their charismatic and constantly caffeinated coach, Penny Kinnally, injects the necessary jolt of energy into the early morning practices. “They might say I’m pushy,” Penny admits, “but I always bring 150% to every lesson.” Sassy and specific, Penny has extensive experience in the “show world” and has worked with top riders and trainers. “She can tell you exactly what to do,” reflects co-captain Laura McGarry, CC ’10, “she’s not even on the horse but knows how to handle him and how to ‘use the tools in your toolbox’—that’s a Penny phrase.” Other memorable Pennyisms? “She once compared someone to a monkey humping a football,” Laura chuckles. Monkey comparisons aside, Penny’s accurate advice reflects her thorough knowledge of every horse and its individual tendencies. “It’s about gumption,” says Penny, “the girls have got to put their game faces on and believe in what they know instead of buying into the horse’s particular personality quirks. It’s a statement to the horse, not a question.”

Coach Kinnaly’s counsel is fitting for the IHSA policies. In typical horse shows, the rider and her horse train together, but in IHSA competitions, each rider draws a horse at the beginning of the day. The rider mounts the horse for the first time in the ring during the show. This separates the people who can really ride from those whom have always been gifted the best horses; it’s about the rider, not the resources. The captains acknowledge that riding can be an expensive sport, but Columbia’s Equestrian Club and the ISHA’s policies make riding more affordable and accessible.

Columbia’s club competes against established Varsity Equestrian Teams, like Brown and Cornell. Even so, we’ve made a good showing. “We’re always just out of third place,” says Penny, “given how few riders we have in each division, the girls hold their own really well.” In 2006, the Equestrian club won the regional championship and one rider even advanced to nationals.

Besides practices and shows, the team volunteers with Pony Power therapies, a riding program for children with mental, physical and emotional disabilities. Laura explains, “kids find the movement of the horse can be very soothing. Riding helps them learn how to follow directions and gain self-confidence.”

Unlike other athletes, the horseback rider is subject to the whims of another species. With the CUEC logo emblazoned on their spiffy new jackets, the riders begin practice with a controlled walk, build to a trot and eventually erupt into a canter. Their steeds bound forward with legs like coiled springs and ears flipped forward. While the riders enjoy the thrill inside the ring, they value the more subdued moments spent grooming the horses.  “You end up developing a relationship with the horse,” reflects Laura. She favors Snickers, known for his jet black rock star mane. “Snickers is my boyfriend,” she admits.

At the age of ten, Bwog’s correspondent suffered a concussion when a deceptively adorable pony named Peanuts brutally bucked her off. Reporting on CUEC presented the perfect opportunity to conquer her fears— of New Jersey.

Photos by Victoria Lewis

CUEC is currently looking to hire a driver. Contact Coach Kinnally.

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  1. good article  

    but i wish you would've explored the girl-horse relationships some more

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