Team Required to Use School Horses, Changes Impact Competition

Team Required to Use School Horses, Changes Impact Competition

This year, Wilde Lake’s Equestrian Club is having to adapt to a new competition series, organized by the IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association), with rules against riders bringing their own horses to competitions. According to the IEA website, in the series, horses are selected randomly in a lottery, minutes prior to each competition.

In previous years, riders had the option to either bring their own horses or be given one from the stable. On the IEA website, it is stated that the rules restricting riders from bringing horses to the competitions were put in place to prepare them for riding at the collegiate level, where the same rules are currently in place

Senior rider Ali Mallo says that the introduction of the new rules will impact riders’ performances, as the familiarity between horse and rider is thought to be an important aspect of the sport.

“It’s like a best friend relationship. You trust each other the more you get to know them,” said junior

Equestrian Team Member Melissa Rabinowitz when describing her relationship with the horse she rides.
When it comes to horses, riders have to understand how each horse thinks, which requires time with their horses, says Rabinowitz.

For example, Rabinowitz goes to her own barn as often as she can and rides a large, chestnut horse named Simon. Other riders on the Equestrian Team, like juniors Sarah Moore and Lily Conteh and Senior Ali Mallo, also spend time at their own barns and ride several different horses to get to know them.

“It’s all about trust,” says Rabinowitz. However, according to Rabinowitz, in the new competition series, the aspect of trust is no longer present, as riders compete with school horses that they meet only minutes before their events.

“Riding is based on how you trust your horse. I ride better on Simon than on a horse I’ve never rode before, because the trust is there with Simon,” said Rabinowitz.

Many riders have had to adjust to riding on and competing with horses that they have never met.

Mallo has been riding since elementary school, and knows how to deal with the unpredictability of school horses.

“Most of the time, a lot of the horses respond better to you if you’re sweet and calm. They can feel if you’re tense and will feed off of that negative energy,” said Mallo.

Because they do not have prior relationships with the school horses assigned to them, the riders have to turn to other means of reading their horses’ emotions. These veteran riders take visual cues, like pinned back ears and legs kicking out, to know to stay away from their horses. These physical changes in the horse’s behavior are interpreted as warnings that the animal may lash out at its rider.

“Riding on a school horse makes you a lot more sensitive to the horse. If you kick it really hard, it could either buck you or stand perfectly still. You don’t know how the horse will react to your movements,” said Moore.

“You have no idea what the horses are going to do, so you have to improvise your style of riding until you get a feel for them,” said Conteh.

As unpredictable as they are, horses are often misunderstood by people who do not ride them, according to Mallo. “You have to gain their trust at first. Horses are prey animals, so they’re going to be defensive. They’re going to be afraid of you,” said Mallo.