UW-Eau Claire Equestrian Team is helping students learn a new sport

    This team is about more than just riding horses

    More stories from Sydney Purpora


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    On an equestrian team there are a variety of connects a rider makes. Connections with the coach, teammates and the judges, but the most important connection is between the rider and their horse.

    “The bond you create with a thousand-pound animal and having them trust you fully is an indescribable feeling,” coach Tammy Olson said.

    Learning how a horse moves and reacts to a rider’s actions helps create a relationship between the rider and the horse by teaching them to understand each other. For the members of the UW-Eau Claire team, they learn just that.

    The Equestrian Team at UW-Eau Claire continues to teach students how to improve their horseman skills, create bonds with horses and give them the opportunity to meet others who are passionate about the sport.

    Founded in 2005, the team offers members a chance to learn about the sport and how to express themselves through with a team. Senior and english style captain Terra Mitzel said she enjoys the team’s importance of working as a group.

    “I like the team aspect and having everyone working together,” Mitzel said.

    Running from September through February, this sport overlaps the fall and spring semesters. To accommodate breaks, the team hosts fall and spring tryouts.

    The team is divided by riding style, western and english (hunt seat). Western style is based on the western saddle that emphasizes ranch style riding, while english style is based on the English saddle with less material making it easier for the rider to clear fences.

    Riders use horses that are provided by the team through Friedli Performance for practices and other schools that host shows for competitions.

    During practices, the riders switch off horses to learn how to create multiple bonds. However, during competitions, horses are picked at random after the team’s arrival.

    Practices for the team run once a week with 3-4 girls at a time. The girls focus on their style specific skill during practices and creating bonds with different horses. At each lesson they work on equitation or how the rider is positioned during a ride, their abilities so far and what needs to be improved.

    The team as a whole competes at horse shows hosted by different schools within the region. Within the competition, both the western and english styles have levels from beginner to freestyle exhibiting their skills in pattern or jumping.

    Reflecting on the last season, senior and western style captain Samantha Bartnik said the team continued to improve and make their mark in the equestrian community.

    “This year was a very successful year for the team,” Bartnik said. “The western team was very competitive and the hunt seat team improved immensely each show that they attended.”

    Taking high point team at University of Minnesota and highest average placing per rider at UW-River Falls, the team swept the competition in the western style. Additionally, two members from the english style group qualified for regionals in Crookston, Minn. and one continued on to nationals in Amarillo, Texas where she received 10th place.

    The team’s goals for future seasons is to keep growing and improving to be the best they can be, Bartnik said.

    In the end, Olson said she encourages her riders to stay positive no matter the outcomes.

    “Riding is not something that comes easy,” Olson said. “As long as you work hard and have passion and drive, you can achieve anything.”