Equestrian Team returns to intercollegiate competitions


Courtesy of Wake Forest's Equestrian Team

Senior Grace Lyons, one of the members of the Equestrian Team competes at Tyron International Equestrian Center over Fall break.

Chase Bagnall-Koger, Features Editor

Winston-Salem’s “college town” feel may lure Wake Forest students into thinking that they have experienced the entirety of the area, but just 15 minutes from campus, Hidden K Stables provides an entirely new set of opportunities: horseback riding training and the ability to connect with new people — and horses. These stables have become a home away from home for members of the Wake Forest Equestrian Team. 

At least once a week, team members gather there for formal horseback lessons with trainer Michelle Hargreaves, a British Horse Society (BHS) qualified riding instructor and owner of Hidden K Stables. In their own time, riders can come by for “hack rides”, less structured rides where they can hone their individual skills and technique. 

“Riding horses has been really important to me my whole life, so it’s great to be able to do that in a new and interesting capacity here at Wake Forest,” senior Anna Lawrence said. 

The team is separated into two distinct styles of equestrian competition — hunt seat and dressage — several members compete in both categories.

The hunt seat team rides courses that include series of jumps and hurdles. These competitions are overseen by the Intercollegiate Hunt Seat Association (IHSA), a non-profit established in 1979 to regulate and judge competitions in hunt seat riding. 

Meanwhile, the dressage team riders work with horses to improve joint discipline and responsiveness. These competitions consist of completing a prescribed series of movements and are organized by the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA). 

Preparing for either of these competition types is no light work. An away show may involve traveling around the area to compete against schools such as Emory & Henry, NC State and Virginia Tech, over the course of a weekend. 

In the days preceding a “home show”, hosted in Wake Forest’s own backyard, riders typically put in extra hours preparing horses, cleaning stalls and equipment; and perfecting their skills. Home shows are unique because, during these events, riders from both the dressage and hunt seat teams compete. Also, since the Equestrian Team is responsible for providing horses for these shows, the riders can compete on horses with which they have bonded. 

“I really connected with one of the horses … he was particular about who rode him, so I had to do some of his retraining at the barn, and I really enjoyed that,” sophomore Isabel Brunker said. 

Though “home shows” were temporarily put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team plans to host an intercollegiate event — an IDA show — for the first time in two years. IHSA shows are typically larger and therefore are still on hold to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. 

Despite some remaining restrictions, the team is now able to return to regular practices and competitions after abiding by a more relaxed, unofficial practice schedule during 2020 and Spring 2021.

“Since I came to Wake in the middle of the pandemic, I was a little worried about keeping myself safe and interacting with other people, but being on the equestrian team helped me make connections,” Brunker said.

Compared to other college equestrian teams, Wake Forest’s team is smaller, but not less dedicated. Between staying overnight on trips to getting up early to feed horses before a show, the experiences of being on the Equestrian team create a tight-knit community that includes people from different areas and backgrounds.

“I had a good time this past semester when we had a double-header horse show in Virginia,” senior Brooke Wilhelm said. “We went to a restaurant and watched the NC State game and had a lot of fun.”

The team typically holds tryouts at the beginning of the fall semester. Although horseback riding can be an extremely technical sport, students of all experience levels are welcomed; there is even a class of competition that requires contestants to have less than five hours of formal training. For more updates on the Equestrian Team, follow it on Instagram @wfu_equestrian or visit its website at https://wfuclubequestrian.wixsite.com.