EVANSTON, Ill. --- Being a club team with a barn located 40 minutes off campus, the Northwestern University Equestrian Team did not expect to rise above the heavily funded varsity teams of other schools to win the final horse show of the 2006-07 season.
"Many varsity teams have a stable on campus or close by, so they can practice every day," says club co-president Samantha Kleinfield, a junior majoring in French. â€œWe ride once a week for about an hour.
But this disadvantage did not keep Northwestern from accumulating 32 points to edge host Northern Illinois University, the strongest school in the region.
Northwestern only sent six riders to the competition, instead of the usual 10 or 12. Those riders were Laura Howland, Sarah Hulseman, Kleinfield, Emilie Ross, Rae Shih and Karen Tam.
The equestrian team was once recognized and funded by the University before dissolving in 1994 due to lack of interest. It was revived in 2001 as a club sport, with members raising funds by selling concessions at football and basketball games and by receiving gifts from alumni.
The team practices at Red Coat Farm in Hawthorne Woods. The farm owns the horses, allowing club members to ride a different horse every time.
"Every horse is different; they have different strides and personalities," says Kleinfield. â€œTo become a versatile rider, you need to ride as many different horses as possible.
This especially comes in handy during competitions where horses are assigned to riders by choosing out of a hat. The riders are then given a one-sentence description about their horse.
"Judges decide the rankings according to your posture on the horse and how effectively you can get the horse to respond to directions with so little knowledge of the horse's personality," says Kleinfield, who has been riding since the age of 5.
The equestrian season lasts all school year, with the competitive season during the winter. Northwestern participates in five competitions per year, usually against eight other universities in the Midwest.
Within the competitions, there are five divisions for the different abilities of riders, ranging from walk trot for the beginners to "open" for the most skilled riders.
Kleinfield says that it is exciting to see how the team has expanded and progressed since returning as a club.
"I love the competitions, but my favorite part is that although riding is such an individual sport, we still manage to come together as a team," she says. "We have so much potential and so many opportunities to continue to flourish."
The Northwestern equestrian team will kick off its 2007-08 season with its first horse show on Oct. 6 and 7 at Northern Illinois University.