Earlier today, my alma mater, the University of Tennessee-Martin, announced they were discontinuing the equestrian team after the 2015-2016 season.
I’ve previously addressed my experience as an athlete, as well as the impending implosion of the sport as an NCAA endeavor.
However, I’m still saddened and a little surprised to see UTM cutting the team so quickly- it’s been less than a decade since the sport was added to the school’s roster. I’m especially disappointed because UTM has a lot of offer prospective equestrian athletes in the way of scholarships, experience, and education.
My main objection to the more-popular IHSA team is its format: you’re competing against every other rider, all mounted on different horses, all at the same time. While that’s how it goes at a regular show, at a typical show you’re riding your horse- not a horse you met five minutes ago. In an IHSA competition, if the judge happens to glance your way while you’re trying to get old Thunder to stop careening around on the wrong lead, that’s it. You’re out of the ribbons.
In an NCEA competition, you and your opponent ride the same equitation test on the same horse- so if old Thunder consistently blows his left lead, at least he’s doing it to everyone, not just you.
My experience with NCEA wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but I won’t deny it was valuable. I’m very disappointed UTM is jumping ship; I was glad to hear that scholarships will be honored through the athletes’ tenure at Martin. I hope the coaching staff (and horses!) are able to find employment after next season, and I certainly hope UTM will consider return to an IHSA team so that collegiate equestrians continue to have an outlet for their passion!