Can I make the grade on a college equestrian team? Coaches of varsity equestrian teams are asked this question all the time--and Texas Christian University (TCU) Coach Gary Reynolds has his own answers. "First and foremost," he says, "they've got to be an academic fit at TCU. Secondly, I like to know that they can ride--not that they've just been put on pleasure horses and stuck down the rail. I want to know that they've had to deal with hard horses, and maybe struggle to bring a horse along. Those are the best ones, and all of these girls have had to do that.
"Skill-wise, they need to be working on their equitation," he adds. "Horsemanship riders need to work on feeling their way on as many different horses as they can. They need to be involved in the industry, and to know what's going on at the upper levels. If they're not showing at the upper levels, they should at least go to some upper-level trainers and ask if they can watch lessons. Or go to clinics--anything they can to do expose themselves to upper-level skills and knowledge is essential. I also advise picking a specialty to work on and promote for yourself--either reining or horsemanship, because we have very few team members who compete in both."
The ideal combination of traits includes mental toughness, Reynolds points out. "In this sport it's one thing to work all week, go the horse show and then mess up your horsemanship pattern," he says. "You can beat yourself up as you drive home. But as a varsity rider, if you go to one of these competitions, mess up your pattern and get your team beat, there's a whole different psychological thing there. So you look for somebody who will be able to adjust and cope with all of that."
Good sportsmanship plays a big role as well. "These girls know a lot of the other girls on the other teams, and they're really good about giving them tips on what certain horses' temperaments are like," says Reynolds of TCU athletes. "There's a lot of respect and camaraderie among the coaches, too--that's one of the things I like best about this sport. We're all working hard to make it the best it can be, and that takes a big spirit of cooperation."
For more on the TCU team, read "The Little Team that Could" in the December 2008 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.