By Sophia Strain
I asked myself when my junior career is over, do I ride in college? Is it worth it?
As a child when I would think about college, I was ready to throw myself into whatever equine program that I got accepted into. I would do my best to pick up where I left off with my trainer at home. This, while a nice dream, was not a reality for me. But, the reality was much better. As a now senior at Centenary University and a member of their IHSA team for all of my 4 years here, intercollegiate riding has shaped me into one the best rider I can be.
The opportunity of riding for the IHSA gives you an immense amount of versatility that you may not find at your home barn. Centenary, in particular, became my top college choice solely based on its equine program and the 70+ horses that they have on its grounds for students to ride. I wanted to become versatile, confident, and happy with where my riding career was going.
I never saw myself going professional in this industry. It just simply wasn’t the path I wanted to take and did not seem like an obtainable reality for me. This may be the case for others as well. I was brought up by some incredible trainers and they made me realize that I always wanted to keep riding as something fun to enjoy. Going professionally would take my joy out of it. Yet, by joining Centenary’s IHSA team, I was able to fulfill this dream of riding competitively past my junior years. In an average week, I ride 3 different horses 5 days a week. I get to train with some wonderful professionals in the industry who teach students their philosophy on riding and I get to hear so many different perspectives. In just 4 years, I have grown from a hesitant novice level rider nervous of the eollegiate environment, into a rider with confidence and the ability to ride an array of different horses.
College can be scary. You may be moving to a new city or even a new state and will have to build an entire new network of friends. The benefits of riding intercollegiate go past the valuable riding skills and training, but also encompass the relationships and connections you will make. Centenary’s IHSA team has some of my best friends on it. I would never have met these people if it wasn’t for taking a chance. There are always going to be rifts in team environments, so I never want to paint an unrealistic picture of a “dream team,” yet the positives far outweigh the negatives. I fully believe that issues can always be resolved. The intercollegiate program has given me the opportunity to meet and build relationships with countless other students and professionals. It has given me internships, jobs, and a network of teammates that I trust and respect.
The IHSA program itself is also full of incredible professionals. From Bob Cacchione, who I have gotten the pleasure to meet several times, to every other college in my region that I have personally competed against, I have never met a team or a coach that was not extremely supportive of other riders. It has made intercollegiate competition something that is not stressful. I do not have to worry about judgment from others or being ridiculed if I have an off day. IHSA has a division for riders of all levels, ranging from walk-trot to open level and it takes away any bias based on finances, gender, experience, or ability. Everyone can be included and every single rider is given the same level of attention and respect. At the end of the day, my coaches only want the best for me and the IHSA as a whole is such a welcoming program that I find myself excited for each upcoming show.
The connections and valuable team atmosphere that you will be surrounded by if you choose to ride on an intercollegiate team is an experience you truly can not get anywhere else. I have never regretted my decision to join the team at Centenary and I will always be thankful for the immense opportunities I have received as a result of my commitment to the team. The feeling of hard work paying off, to me, is one of the biggest rewards you can receive.
After 3 years, I qualified for IHSA Nationals and ended 3rd overall in the nation. While the ribbon was something I will always be grateful for, to me it was a symbol that my hard work and training had come together into something I can be proud of. I always say as a word of advice to anyone questioning whether or not they should ride IHSA: take the chance and you never know the relationships and successes that you may find.
Sophia Strain is 22 years old and a senior at Centenary University majoring in Equine Studies: Public Relations and Media. She is originally from Massachusetts and has been competing on the Hunter/Jumper circuit since high school. She is hopeful to make a career in the equine industry whether it be in writing, public relations, or social media marketing after she graduates.