Sandwiched between cycling and figure skating on the list of club sports offered at Columbia is equestrian, represented by the Columbia University Equestrian Club.
Established in 2005 by Sarah Maslin Nir, CC ’05 and Journalism ’09, and Sarah Ashford Hart, BC ’06, the club aims to make horseback riding fun and accessible. It has been quietly providing a unique riding experience, including opportunities to ride year-round and show at competitions, not only for Barnard and Columbia undergraduates, but for graduate students as well.
“Right now, there are 19 people in the club. Last year we were a little bit bigger, and the numbers fluctuate every year, usually between 20 and 30 people,” club President Sarah Coleman, CC ’15, said. “It’s usually a good mix between Columbia College and Barnard.”
The club welcomes men and women alike, regardless of riding experience, though “we haven’t had a boy on the actual show team for a little while, but they’re totally allowed to,” Coleman said.
In fact, attracting non-riders is one of the goals of the club as well as the organization to which it belongs, the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which comprises more than 370 colleges and universities that host horse shows throughout the country. A novel aspect of IHSA events is that the horses are provided at the competition, so riders do not have to shoulder the heavy financial costs that are typical of the sport.
Equestrian coach Penny Kinnally emphasized the club’s accessibility as one of its selling points.
“I see more non-riders joining, which is the whole point of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association of which CUEC is a part. This gives us the opportunity to develop riders and introduce the ‘public’ to this great sport, making it accessible to people who didn’t think they would ever get the chance to ride, let alone compete,” Kinnally said in an email.
Even so, the club has struggled with publicity.
“A lot of it is word of mouth. We put up flyers, we have a blog and a Facebook page, so we’re trying, but I think a lot of people still don’t really know that we’re there,” Coleman said.
Unlike many Columbia teams at both the club and varsity levels, the equestrian club practices at Bergen Equestrian Center, a mere 15 minutes away in Leonia, N.J. At the competitions, which take place in October and November and again in February-April, each rider competes with a horse that he or she has never ridden before. Still, several Columbia riders have handled this challenge well. Earlier this month, Coleman qualified for the 2014 Zone 2, Region 4 IHSA Regional Competition in Intermediate Flat.
“Sarah has put in the time this semester, making it a point to ride two times a week whenever she can. This is a sport that demands a certain kind of physical strength that is gained only by riding,” Kinnally said. “We are always working toward more riders qualifying—it is our goal.”
Though the Columbia riders have done well individually this semester, the small size of the team has been a liability, since scores are assessed by adding up the individual points on a team’s point card.
“This past semester, we couldn’t fill the point card just because we didn’t have people in every division and every class,” Coleman said. The team’s size has made it nearly impossible to win shows.
Both Coleman and Kinnally are optimistic about the club’s future.
“The team has an easy-to-reach, fabulous facility where they practice,” Kinnally said. “It has horses to ride that are the envy of all the other teams in our region.”
Nevertheless, sustainable success depends on whether the club can continue to attract new members.