Monday, April 30, 2012

Riding at the University of Maryland

You may remember that I'm a Terp, albeit a not-terribly-school-spirited one.
I would much rather spend my time making cute food rather than going to a game. I didn't make this though; Snarky Rider shared it on FB
 A big part of why I chose to come to Maryland was the on-campus riding club. I was only a member for one semester, since I found it rather fishy that four out of their eight horses were lame. I also really didn't like that we only had two horses allotted to our lesson of four girls so we had to switch in the middle of the lesson.

However, I thought it would be fair and useful to see the other side. I haven't been around the campus farm for three and a half years, and I didn't want to show badly enough to warrant the IHSA team dues. I interviewed Leandra Bitterfeld, a student instructor for the University of Maryland Equestrian Club and treasurer of the IHSA team to get some perspective on which riders are best suited to club versus team riding.

Overall: Club versus Team 

“The club is where you want to go if you want to learn about horses,” Leandra explains. The Equestrian Club has a barn on the University of Maryland’s 1250-acre campus. Though they do show once a year on Maryland Day, the yearly campus-wide open house, the club is a non-competitive organization focused on horse care, management, and riding. 

“Maryland is the only student-run equestrian club in the country,” says Leandra, which means that all club members pitch in. In addition to attending monthly meetings and a weekly lesson (if they choose to ride), members must do one chore per week, whether it’s haying, feeding, or mucking stalls. The lesson horses play double duty too—they are also used for equine labs in the Animal Science department. Only about half of the students in the club ride, since many are simply interested in gaining experience with horses.

The club also offers students the opportunity to learn to teach. Leandra took two tests and did an evaluation ride to become an instructor for the club’s A lesson group (the club groups members based on ability—A being advanced and E being beginner riders). She has found teaching to be just as educational for her as it is for her students: “Every time I go into the ring I’m learning so much about my riding. When I’m watching these girls make mistakes, I’m also learning so much for myself. And that’s been my favorite part of teaching—being able to share my knowledge and take so much knowledge back from it.”

As you would expect, the IHSA team is more focused on competition than the club. According to Leandra, the average club member is just learning to canter, while the average team member is jumping 2’ or 2’6”.  Since the team mostly attracts people who already have horse experience, they require members to at least know how to walk and trot. “The level that we’re taught at is more specialized,” Leandra says, nothing that there are rarely enough dead beginners interested to fill up a group lesson.

Since IHSA riders are not familiar with their host school’s horses, the focus is on rider performance. Potential IHSA members should not stress about the possibility of a host school horse acting up because riders have the opportunity to ask for a “re-ride” which allows them to try again on a different horse. However, this is the exception rather than the norm. Leandra says, “I’ve gotten to ride so many amazing horses that I could never afford, especially as a college student.”
The UM Equestrian Team rocks the sweatpants-over-breeches look on a cold show day! I can empathize.
photo credit: Leandra Bitterfeld/ UMET FB

  • The club is financed by the Student Government, Campus Recreation Services,  member fundraising, and dues. Riding members' dues are $225 per semester and non-riding members' dues are $25 per semester. Definitely WAY cheaper than 11 weeks of lessons, which could cost anywhere from $440-660 in the DC metro area.
  • The team is completely financed by its members, who pay $500 per semester to cover the use of Oatlands Stables horses in lessons and shows, IHSA fees, tack, and transportation. Members who do not have show clothes borrow from other members. “We borrow and trade and swap all the time,” says Leandra, who sometimes finds herself lending out her show helmet to two or three riders who only have plastic schooling helmets in one day.
  • The team is more of a time commitment than the on-campus club, since weekly lessons at Oatland Stables are 45 minutes from campus (when it's not rush hour--DC traffic is no joke) and the team attends eight to nine shows per year, sometimes staying overnight for two-day shows. The team also has occasional meetings. However, so much time spent with teammates and riders from other schools only adds to the sense of camaraderie and friendship. “The sportsmanship in the region is really strong,” says Leandra. 
  • For the club it depends on the chore you have. All members are required to do one barn chore (feeding, mucking, haying, etc.) which could take anywhere from an hour to several hours, and some members also choose to ride in an hour lesson (meaning about two hours to allow for walk time on our large campus plus tacking up).
Hopefully that was useful for any of you who are trying to decide where to go to college. There are so many different incarnations of IHSA teams and clubs that comparing different schools is daunting, so I hope that my stab at it was useful--I hope it showed that just because one person had a negative experience doesn't mean that everyone does. In hindsight, I don't think I was suited to the club from the start--I was raring to continue jumping 2'6" as I was accustomed to in my high school lessons, and I was really disappointed that my group was only doing cross rails and cavalletti to keep the horses sound. I'm only just beginning to understand the gaps in my flatwork that I didn't know enough to recognize back then.

There are many other resources available to compare schools which I covered in another post. Let me know if you've ever ridden for another school's IHSA team--I'd be happy to interview you for the greater good of high school seniors :)

No comments:

Post a Comment