BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. I spring out of bed, not wanting to be late. It’s the first meet of the year for the NCEA Equestrian Team at the University of South Carolina, where I’m a junior. We’re hosting the event and facing off against Kansas State University. I want to make sure that my white care horse looks his best before the meet begins. By 6:15 a.m., I’m elbow-deep in Quic Silver shampoo.
About an hour later, once the horses are cleaned and show-ready, my teammates and I trickle into our meeting area, which we refer to as the “great room.” We enjoy breakfast, courtesy of our team parents, as we listen to our coaches and captains talk about the day ahead, which will feature both hunt-seat equitation on the flat and over fences, reining competition and Western horsemanship. “Just do what you know how to do and you’ll be great,” they conclude as we head outside to cheer before the day truly gets under way.
Then all 39 of us scatter in different directions. I’m not competing, but that doesn’t mean that there’s any less to do. The other hunt-seat riders and I make sure that the tack and equipment are in order for the nine hunt-seat horses we have competing before heading to our upper arena to cheer on our reining team. At the event’s halftime, we head back down to start getting the jumping horses ready to compete.
On this particular day, I’m lucky enough to get to warm up two of my very favorite horses, Tucker and Cecil. Any day I get to ride them is a great day. After a quick flat session and school of the course, it’s time to give the horses to the riders showing them and move on to wiping the horses’ mouths, painting their feet and cleaning riders’ boots. Cheering on my teammates is fun. It’s satisfying to see all of their hard work pay off and watch them lay down a beautiful trip.
Once the fences competition concludes, we move on to the hunt-seat flat and Western horsemanship in the upper arena. I’m back in the barn with a few other teammates getting the horses who are already finished for the day put away. We wash their legs, take out their braids, poultice and wrap them before putting them away for the night. We’re lucky—we have a very sweet and well-behaved group of horses. We wait anxiously to hear how the day has gone for our flat and horsemanship riders.
My other teammates come back with the horsemanship and flat horses and great news: We’ve won! It’s exciting, but it’s not time to celebrate yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The other “jump-crew” members and I head to the jumping ring to remove the flowers and decorations while the rest of the team puts away horses, cleans tack and makes sure that everything is in perfect condition before we call it a day.
Finally, once everything is complete, we head to the great room to meet one more time. We’re tired but elated as our coaches and captains congratulate us on a job well done. This is the moment when I get to slow down enough to truly appreciate the fact that I’m in the company of teammates and three coaches whom I truly respect and whom I know have my back. We have 22 horses who gave their very best for us.
Ironically, if you’d told me three years ago that you’d find me at a college competition I wouldn’t have believed you. I went to college unwillingly, to say the least. Instead I’d wanted to take a gap year and pursue riding on my own—I had ridden in the hunter, jumper and equitation divisions as a Junior and was training with hunter rider Hunt Tosh and competing as an amateur. However, since arriving at school, I’ve learned that contributing to the success of the team can be just as satisfying as being successful individually. Today I’m again reminded how lucky I am.
Elizabeth worked as an intern for Practical Horseman before returning to finish her senior year at USC, where she has a double major in business management and marketing with a minor in psychology.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.