The brutal Schenectady winter causes many club sports to shut down or to keep an eye on the weather when planning their activities.
Most of us, huddled inside with our textbooks, dream of spring term and of once again escaping work by playing frisbee with friends or kicking around a soccer ball.
But one club, no matter the weather, keeps on with its regular activities, rain or snow or shine.
Now in its fifth year, the Union College Equestrian Club brings together those passionate about horses, horseback riding, and intercollegiate equestrian showing in an atmosphere that welcomes both those who have never ridden a horse and those who have ridden for their entire lives.
Portia Taylor ’19 described the club as “a relaxing escape for me during this past fall term” that makes “Union feel a little more like home.”
Indeed, Rachel Mcdermott ’17 expressed that “having the structure of the equestrian team and, most importantly, the people on the team who understand the equestrian world, has been so important for me in terms of school as well as for maintaining lower stress levels.”
At the moment, the Club has nearly twenty members and twelve regular riders. Every week, these riders make the trip out to Winter Glen Farm – just fifteen minutes out of Union – to saddle up and enter the euphoria of riding for a few hours.
Apart from experiencing the pure pleasure of riding, the riders hone their technique under the instruction of Peggy Aedjian. Coach Peggy has been riding for nearly fifty years and has earned acclaim twice as the “Horsewoman of the Year,” according to her biography page.
Riders of any skill level are encouraged to go to lessons and to support the team at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association events that they attend.
Union riders compete at these shows against nearby rivals such as SUNY Albany, SUNY Cobleskill, Colgate University, Hartwick College, Skidmore College, Morrisville State College, Oneonta State College, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Siena College, and Keuka College.
Each rider interested in competing is assigned a class based on their answers to a skill level questionnaire. The classes include open, intermediate, and novice, involving skills such as jumping and walk-trot-canter.
On the day of the show, the Union team arrives at about 8:30 a.m. to register for classes and to get their horse assignments.
To even the playing field between teams, each rider is randomly assigned a horse, and is not allowed to ride that horse until the competition begins.
There are three main judging criteria by which riders are awarded points. First is equitation, which is the most important category.
Equitation describes how the rider positions himself or herself on the horse and how well the lines of his or her body are aligned with that of their horse. Second, the rider must maintain the correct diagonal.
“Diagonal” refers to the correct rhythm of the rider’s body with that of the horse’s footfalls. Lastly, a rider must maintain the appropriate lead by keeping the horse stepping forward with the correct foot based on the direction around the ring.
If a rider performs well enough during enough shows throughout the term, he or she can “point out” of his or her class.
“Pointing out” qualifies a rider to compete at the IHSA Regional Show. Only the best of each class can compete for the chance to advance to the State competition. Last year, Union sent riders to Regionals for the very first time.
Sierra Goodfellow, ’17, president of the Equestrian Club, observed “the club became tenfold stronger when many members of the class of 2019 joined.”
Based on their growing size, she and co-president Emily Jannery ’17 consider making Equestrian Club a sport at Union. While they haven’t spoken to the athletic department yet, Goodfellow commented, “we believe that if club continues to increase in membership it should be a sport.”
She mentioned that they regularly compete against Division Three equestrian teams from other colleges, and that becoming a sport would attract more serious riders looking for a college with a recognized equestrian team.
While the riding and the showing are very important to the Equestrian Club, members also enjoy organizing on-campus events with the theme of equestrian awareness.
Each year the club holds a bake sale to raise money for Peaceful Acres, which rescues horses from the slaughterhouse.
The Equestrian Club has also previously invited Nanette Foster of Autumn Run Stables to come speak to Union students and faculty about equine therapy and its successes with mentally and physically disabled children.
Other speakers have come, courtesy of the Equestrian Club, to raise awareness concerning the abuse of racehorses.
On the lighter side, the Equestrian club most enjoys bringing their love of horses to the campus community through the very popular trail rides in the Adirondacks and visits to the Saratoga Horse Show.