Clad in t-shirts and jeans, two riders loped their western mounts around a shadowed arena on a crisp November evening.
The riders, Sarah Shipp and Anna Wermert, are members of the University of Tennessee Equestrian Team. Members of the team take riding lessons under the careful instruction of trainer Carol Hodge at Hidden Hollow Farm.
These lessons help experienced and inexperienced riders improve their horse handling skills. It also enables them to be able to compete against other colleges in their team’s zone and region.
The UT Equestrian Team is a member of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. Robert Cacchione, a sophomore at Farleigh Dickson University in New Jersey, created the IHSA in 1967.
“Cacchione, a rider, developed it for people to be able to show horses,” said Hodge. “They can get the experience of showing, and showing some really nice horses.”
Hodge explained that riders do not need their own horses to be able to participate and compete with the team.
“They don’t have to own a horse,” she said. “They can still show, compete and do some really good things, get scholarships – it’s a really good organization.”
According to the IHSA’s website, the organization encourages equine collegiate competitors across 45 states and Canada. These states and territories are divided into 40 regions in eight zones and includes over 400 colleges.
The UT Equestrian Team is in Zone 5, Region 1 and competes against other colleges in Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.
Riders do not have to have prior riding experience to join the team.
“You can start with not even knowing how to brush a horse to people who ride internationally,” said Hodge.
Hodge said that a former rider had no experience with horses at all.
“He had never even seen a horse in real life until he came here,” she said. “He ended up competing and winning fourth place at his first show. He was thrilled to death.”
Although the team competes in ISHA approved shows, members who join the UT Equestrian Team are not required to show in competitions.
“You do not have to compete,” said Hodge. “You can if you want to, but you can just take lessons and learn horsemanship and riding skills.”
The collegiate teams can be subdivided into two other teams, Hunter Seat and Western. Hunter Seat, often shortened to Hunt Seat, involves equitation classes on the flat and over fences. Western includes horsemanship and reining classes. Some colleges, like UT, have both Hunt Seat and Western teams.
The UT Equestrian Team’s Western team shows placings after their first show of the 2018-2019 season. (UTET Instagram)
The UT Equestrian Team’s Hunt Seat team shows placings after their first show of the 2018-2019 season. (UTET Instagram)
UT’s Hunt Seat team captain and sophomore Beatrice Caiado describes the equestrian team as a welcoming group.
“I came in as a freshman at UT,” said Caiado. “I didn’t know anyone on the team, and just the first meeting alone you get engulfed in just this sprit and excitement because you’re not the only person who rides horses – everyone else does it too.”
Caiado wants people to realize that horseback riding is a sport, requiring a lot of hard work and dedication.
“It’s not easy. People think riding horses is easy – it’s not. Don’t underestimate it,” she said. “We’re not saying our sport is better than yours, it’s just what we love to do.”
According to Caiado, there isn’t a rivalry between the Hunt Seat and Western riders on the equestrian team. Riders want each other to do well, regardless of discipline.
“We’re all a family, a big family,” said Caiado. “We support each other no matter what.”
UTET’s next show will be hosted in Cookeville by Tennessee Tech University Feb. 2 – 3, 2019.
Photos, video and text by Kelly Alley