From the Horse’s Mouth Blog Hop: Grateful

I’ve been busy with work and doing non-horsey things for the last week or so (plus, the ponies were at the local dressage club’s junior rider camp)- thus the lack of posts. I think Emily at From the Horse’s Mouth has a great topic for her first blog hop: What are a few horse related things that you are super grateful for?

I am endlessly grateful for many horse related things.
Johnny, Supportive Un-horsey Significant Other

At Oktoberfest last weekend

Johnny is the most supportive, good-natured significant other I could ever hope to have. He’s said more than once “You seem a lot happier when you have horses; I like happy Stephanie!” Truer words have never been spoken. From day one, Johnny has supported the horse habit. He attended polo practice when I lived in Kansas, helped me buy Gina, and doesn’t mind when I spend all my free money on tack. (Or when I talk on and on and on about the ponies’ feed and its nutritional balance.)

Horse friends

Trail riding at the lake this summer with friends.

I can’t truly tell you how much I love my horse friends! They can relate to all my horsey woes, appreciate the smell of a new saddle, and understand my why finishing a jumping course on Gina is a Big. Deal. It’s great to have friends to ride with or to give you a second opinion on your horse or your riding. It’s also fun to have friends to go to shows with or haul out for trail rides! I’m grateful to have collected so many of them here in Oklahoma; it’s what’s finally made the Sooner State feel like home.

The storefront

Let me tell you, it’s pretty awesome to be employed after a lengthy stretch of unemployment. (Except for the whole having-less-time-to-ride thing.) But to be employed at a tack store? Where I get a sweet discount on everything I could possibly need or want? I have died and gone to heaven, y’all. It helps that the job is fun, low-key, and full of pleasant co-workers. 

Awesome trainer/friend
Anne and Atut

Now that we don’t board at the same barn, my sometimes-trainer/always-friend Anne and I don’t get to ride together much. That doesn’t mean I don’t hit her up for advice, though! I’m very grateful to have a friend who’s also a dressage guru and occasional jumping coach to ask when I’m having a problem with Gina’s canter or Moe’s bend or my wacky right arm. Anne is totally honest, totally awesome, and I can’t wait to get a regular lesson schedule happening with her again.

There are dozens of other things I’m grateful for too, like understanding parents, a great barn, Pony Club, and my sweet horses themselves. And I’m always glad for a reminder to take a deep breath and feel some gratitude for the amazing horsey things in life.

Hand Gallop Blog Hop: Fit to ride

blog hop graphic
Thanks to everyone who participated in the last blog hop! I found some new blogs to read (always a plus) and I loved reading about how everyone’s horse got their name! 
This week I have a human-related question for everyone: What do you do to stay fit to ride?

I think we can all agree that riding is an athletic endeavor. It takes a lot of strength and stamina to ride a good dressage test, gallop through a cross-country course, or guide a horse through a fast and clean jumper round.
Sometimes I think we don’t take our fitness as seriously as we take our horses’, but I hope this blog hop can be an opportunity for the equestrian blogging community to share tips, successes, and even struggles! 
Sweaty selfie, you guys. I’m the coolest!
I’ll be the first to admit I am not the fittest rider out there. I generally enjoy exercise, but I sometimes neglect to make time for it. I generally try to eat a balanced diet that makes me feel good but on a late night drive home from the barn, Whataburger just sounds so good and it’s so easy.
As I’ve aged, I’ve realized that my diet and exercise regime is just as important as my horses’. Here’s what I currently do to help myself become fitter and give my horses a better ride:
  • Jogging: I am the world’s worst jogger. I am lucky to run a 12 minute mile and I don’t really enjoy the activity itself. I continuously get side stitches and feel close to death. But every other day, I drag myself onto the streets of my neighborhood and jog for 20-25 minutes. (Very occasionally I’ll jog for 30 minutes. Very occasionally.) 
  • Strength training: As soon as I get in from jogging, I come inside and do some form of basic strength training. A typical routine for me is 3 sets of: 10 pushups, 20 crunches, 15 squats, 60 second plank, 90 second wall sit. 
  • Diet: Way back in March, Johnny and I did a Whole 30. I lost 8 pounds (with zero exercise) and felt awesome. Since then, I’ve been eating whatever; it’s easier and less expensive to plan meals that include pasta and grains. Plus, I sometimes enjoy drinking alcohol. Even though it probably sounds like I eat at Whataburger every night, I usually cook dinner during the week. Our dinners usually consist of a protein-rich entree (ranging from pork chops to tofu) and a large vegetable side dish (usually steamed broccoli) plus a salad. I love cooking, so this is not a big deal for me. However, Johnny and I have gotten kind of lax about our eating (let’s not talk about how much wine I’ve had lately), so we’re embarking on another Whole 30 next week.
I’m far from a svelte equitation rider- for someone who is 5’9, I’m awfully stumpy and stout. But I try not to stress about it too much; negative self-talk is useless. Every time I think “Ugh, Stephanie, those white breeches aren’t doing you any favors,” I firmly squash that thought and tell myself “I’m glad my legs are strong enough for me to hold a galloping position for a long time!” It sounds really silly, but it’s helped me feel grateful for what I can do instead of feeling disappointed that I don’t look like Charlotte Dujardin. 
So there you have it, fellow equestrians! That’s my fitness regime- a steady diet of slow jogs and squats, coupled with a mostly-good diet. I’m really looking forward to hearing about what you do to stay fit for your riding endeavors!



Some details have emerged regarding the NCEA situation I posted about yesterday. If you’re interested, here are the links:

AQHA’s Response to NCEA Equestrian Developments
NCAA Women’s Athletics Recommends to Remove Equestrian as Sport
NCEA Update about Future of NCAA Equestrian

It sounds as if the NCAA is recommending the removal of equestrian as a sport because it has not achieved championship status within the 10 year window granted to emerging sports. Equestrian has actually had 12 years to accomplish this; it was granted an extension in 2012. To achieve championship status, a sport must have 40 ‘sponsorships’- that is, schools that sponsor a team. Currently, equestrian has 22 sponsorships.

In September, the NCEA provided the NCAA with a strategic plan to increase sponsorships. Just a few days ago, the NCAA advised that equestrian be removed as a sport. There aren’t many insights into why the NCAA feels this way, other than the lack of sponsorships. However, this tidbit from the NCEA’s report could be indicative of at least one reason equestrian hasn’t caught on:

“We also will work to educate schools interested in sponsoring equestrian about the financial reasonability of adding the sport. There are misperceptions about the costs of adding equestrian that the NCEA feels we can address.”

Maybe the NCEA is concerned that schools think equestrian is too expensive; I wonder if it’s the opposite- schools are upset once they realize the true cost of supporting a large equestrian program.

I’m very interested to see how this all pans out!

Throwback Thursday

2003, show jumping phase of Middle Tennessee Pony Club Horse Trials at Brownland Farm. Moe is 8 here. I am just shy of my 17th birthday. Moe still gets that eager look on his face when jumps are around. At 19, he is very much the same as he was at 8, although I suppose he’s slightly more sensible now than he was 11 years ago. (For example, he no longer spooks if he steps on his own lead rope.)
I consider myself very lucky to have had such a good horse for so many years. I hope there are many more in our future!

The death of NCAA equestrian

A friend who received her doctorate from Kansas State posted an article from that school’s newspaper onto my alma mater’s equestrian team’s Facebook page this morning: Equestrian program being discontinued at K-State, women’s soccer coming in 2016-2017.

I’ve written before about my experience as a member of the University of Tennessee-Martin’s varsity equestrian team. While I have never been a serious hunt seat rider and felt a little out of place on the team, I did feel like it was a valuable experience. I received excellent instruction, rode a wide variety of horses, and received a small scholarship which helped me pay for my college education.

The article from K-State’s The Collegian reports that “due to a recommendation from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, K-State Athletics will part ways with its equestrian program after next season’s scheduled competition.” The article also states “the Committee on Women’s Athletics saw a shortage of sponsorships for equestrian at all three levels of NCAA competition, leading to the recommendation that all universities re-examine their use of the sport.”

While I couldn’t find the report from The Committee on Women’s Athletics the article references, I was able to find some data from the NCAA itself on the state of equestrian sport by digging into a report on available on their website: NCAA Sports Sponsorship & Participation Rates Report 1981-1982 – 2007-2008 (PDF).

Created with data from NCAA Sports Sponsorship & Participation Rates Report

As you can see, the overall number of student athletes involved in equestrian has been slowly increasing over the years. The number of teams (or “sponsorships”- school sponsored teams) has followed a similar trend, with 45 teams fielded in the 2007-2008 season. A more recent report from the NCAA, Women’s Sports Inventory, places the number of total equestrian athletes at 1,543 in 2013.

How do these numbers compare to other NCAA sports? The total number of athletes participating in equestrian is similar to the total number of athletes participating in women’s rifle and women’s water polo. Equestrian has more athletes than women’s rugby, women’s skiing, women’s rifle, and women’s squash. 
However, the difference between those sports and equestrian comes down to budget. The Women’s Sports Inventory report puts a Division I school’s average budget for equestrian at $921,000. Those same schools, on average, generate only $83,000 in revenue from equestrian. The discrepancy between budget and revenue is even wider at Division II and Division III schools. It’s easy to see why the NCAA feels that equestrian is no longer a worthwhile pursuit; it’s certainly not making any money for the NCAA. It won’t, when the majority of schools sponsoring an equestrian team are small Division III schools. At a large university like Oklahoma State, the football and basketball programs generate enough revenue to cover the budget deficit for its equestrian team. At schools like tiny liberal arts college Seton Hill University, equestrian’s deficit must be made up in other ways.
Equestrian sports are an expensive pursuit. I know this. You know this. I have to wonder if the schools who eagerly added equestrian teams in the last decade knew this. The NCEA website is a little misleading- or maybe they haven’t read the Women’s Sports Inventory report. On their Prospective Universities page, they optimistically tout equestrian as “among the least expensive sports at $3-7,000 per student athlete” and state “total operating expenses range from $100,000-450,000”. The NCEA is also very positive about acquiring funds, horses, and facilities, as evidenced by some of their cheerful statements:

  • “The horse industry has over a $112 billion dollar economic impact each year with over 7 million Americans involved. Many programs have found new sponsorships with feed, animal health products, apparel and trailer companies.”
  • “Major networks already carry equestrian activities (NBC, ESPN, Outdoor Life Network, TVG, and College Sports TV). The Varsity National Championship has been televised on both CSTV and OLN.”
  • “In most cases, programs have met their horse needs through individual donations to the animal science, athletic or university foundation and/or from a pre-existing club team. Some programs choose to lease or borrow horses instead of owning.”
  • “Institutions with existing equine and/or animal science departments will typically already have facilities on campus.”
  • “Many programs have tapped into the local horse community to help offset cost. Oklahoma State University was able to acquire sponsorship for a horse trailer and jumps while securing deals with western wear stores for uniforms. You will soon discover there is an untapped market and unique interest group available to you.”
Most of these statements are specious at best. While it’s true NBC does broadcast major equestrian events, it’s not as if Rolex (or even the Olympics!) is getting primetime coverage. And of course people will want to donate horses to a program…horses that are too old, too lame, or too crazy for their owners to ride or sell! 
I know that UT-Martin added equestrian because it needed another sport to offer women. I’m sure other universities did the same. However, if a Big 12 powerhouse like Kansas State isn’t willing to field a team, who is? Kansas State has a robust athletics department which generates plenty of revenue for the school. Their equestrian team has regularly been invited to compete at the NCEA National Championship, and is currently ranked 4th in the NCEA rankings. They’re successful and competitive. But it isn’t enough.
I question the value of including equestrian in collegiate athletics. I know many of you have had positive experiences as members of IHSA and NCEA teams, and some of you may have even begun riding through those programs or been able to ride when you otherwise couldn’t have afforded to. But for riders who are already riding and competing by time they go to college, how many are truly interested in competing for their school instead of pursuing their own showing goals? How many interested non-riders will try out for their school’s team instead of finding a stable for lessons? Are collegiate equestrian programs truly building interest and giving opportunities? 
For me, participation on the equestrian team was stepping stone. I had yet to bring my horse to college and wanted to ride. I knew I was competent enough to make the team. But my goal was never to become a great and wonderful hunter rider. Once Moe made it to Martin, I spent most of my free time keeping him and another gelding fit for eventing. I left the team after two seasons because my interest waned after I was able to get back to the discipline I truly loved. 
I’m curious to know what your thoughts are, fellow riders and readers.