The Final First Ride

Senior year of college marks my final year competing on the NDSU Equestrian Team

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Team captain Becky Prasch and I pose with our Champion and Reserve Champion ribbons at a show last fall

Today I attended my final NDSU homecoming parade as an actual student. If and when I go next year, I’ll be an alum, and I’m A-OK with that. Just over a month into my senior year, I’m beginning to relate with the well-known Captain Jack Sparrow on a sinking ship meme that circulates Facebook every now and then, symbolizing the various stages of your college career. At this point, I’m quite ready to hop off the ship and onto the dock, and set sail to another sea far away from homework and classrooms.

Despite my excitement for graduation, endings don’t happen without a bit of nostalgia. Tomorrow morning I depart for my final first show of the season of my IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) career. For those of you who are new to my blog or the world of collegiate horse showing, IHSA is an association that allows equestrians to compete affordably during college. Universities that host shows provide horses, and we draw horse names at random to determine who to ride. Riders are only allowed to watch the horse warm up before entering the arena to compete. The idea is that all competitors are on a level playing field, and it’s amazing in so many ways. From the adrenaline rush of getting on a new horse for the first time, to the opportunity of being able to ride competitively while attending school.

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Competing at University of Wisconsin River Falls

Tomorrow is the last first time I’ll smush into a van next to my teammates and drive five hours to a horse show. The last first time I’ll step onto a mounting block and get on a horse I’ve never ridden before, taking advice from my coach as she adjusts my stirrups. And the last first time I’ll collect my reins, nudge that horse forward and make an impression on a judge that will hopefully score points for NDSU.

The thought of my fourth and final year competing on the NDSU hunt seat equestrian team makes my heart a bit heavy. Going to college and attending classes is an experience in itself, but being part of a team creates an entirely different realm of responsibility, an added learning curve, and bonds that won’t be broken for a long time.

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NDSU riders at Zone 7 Championships in 2015

If you haven’t read any of my previous blogs about the experience of competing on an equestrian team, you should check out An Emphasis on Attitude, and Saddle Club, Rapping and Ribbons. The first was written two years ago when I stayed on as a member of the team during a five month internship with the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas. The second is a piece I penned last year after a particularly entertaining weekend of horse showing with my team.  Each one highlights the different lessons you come to value while competing on a collegiate sports team.

For the sake of reflection, I wanted to share a few of the most memorable moments of my IHSA career:

  1. The feeling of uncontrollable nerves when competing in my first IHSA jumping class. Needless to say I didn’t win, but I’ve since learned how to channel the nerves into my performances.
  2. Embarking on an alternative route for my spring 2015 semester by interning in Texas. All the while I remained a member of the team, taking lessons from instructors there and flying home for the Zone 7 Region 3 Regional Championships.
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    An epic photo of me aboard Aferd, at a show NDSU co-hosted last season

    Winning my first tri-colored ribbon (only other equestrians can truly understand the strange sense of satisfaction when a ribbon is not one but three different colors). I won reserve champion (a red, white and yellow ribbon) in Novice Over Fences at that regional competition, and had to book another plane ticket to fly back from Texas and compete at the Zone 7 Championships.

  4. Putting in one of the most lackluster performances of my life at Zone Championships and learning a priceless lesson about sportsmanship.
  5. Having the most successful and fun season to date last fall, taking Champion High Point Rider awards at two shows and creating closer bonds with my teammates before leaving to study abroad in Chile the following semester – the only one that I haven’t competed with the team.

A few years down the road from where I started, there will be a hefty handful of lessons and memories tucked under my helmet when I strap it on tomorrow.

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Last year’s NDSU Hunt Seat Equestrian Team members

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