By: Will Pitts
Of all the sports Goucher College participates in, the Equestrian program is definitely the most obscure. Understandable, given that the sport itself isn’t exactly as “mainstream” as, basketball or soccer. Sure, it’s played every four years at the summer Olympics, but that is about as much exposure as it receives.
“The discipline is judged on the rider, not the horse,” said Jen Smith, the team’s head coach. “I always think the best comparison would be like figure skating, where you have a routine, a pattern that you go through, and you get a technical score on each thing that you execute.”
In a way, though, that level of exclusivity gives Goucher one of the most unique athletics programs in America. An exclusive club of 400 schools offer equestrian programs, the bulk of which are in the non-scholarship Division III. In a region known for its love of horses – it does host the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, after all – the Gophers have a leg up on most of their competition as Zone IV, Region 1 competitor.
A fleet of 28 horses are at Goucher’s disposal, all of them appraised and donated as gifts to the school. Though most are warm-bloods, you’ll find the occasional greyhound or thoroughbred in the mix. Ironically, the most popular horse on campus is the only one who doesn’t run at any events.
Indeed, no mention of the equestrian team is complete without introducing Cookie, the team’s de-facto mascot. Cookie is a four-year-old miniature horse whose diminutive stature makes her too small to be mounted by any rider. However, Goucher has put her to good use, taking her to other on-campus events such as tennis matches to advertise the equestrian team.
“We got her because we wanted people on campus to get a little more exposure to us,” said Smith. “She can go up and down campus more easily than some of the bigger horses.”
The men and women on the team are fiercely dedicated to their sport. Just ask Ari Schlossberg ’18 from Chicago, who came all the way to Goucher mainly due to his love of horseback racing, and because of the school’s stature as an equestrian powerhouse.
“I really like horseback riding,” Schlossberg said. “It’s something I never got to do, but I was around [in Chicago] as a kid, and I thought it was really cool that it was here.”
As equestrian is one of the only sports at Goucher that runs through both semesters, life on the team carries a busy schedule. “You’ll have horseback riding in the middle of the day, which means you have to get ready for horseback riding when you get up in the morning, which means you go to all your classes in your riding clothes,” Schlossberg added. “And then the team has responsibilities…the team takes part in taking care of the barn.”
That said, their hard work has paid off. So far this year, the Gophers have shredded their competition. At their most recent event, on February 25th at the University of Maryland, they clinched overall victory for the season in Region 1 with one Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, event remaining on the calendar, having amassed a 69-point lead over second place in the standings.
For those who hope to join the team but have no previous riding experience, there is a way. In addition to the equestrian team, Goucher offers courses in beginner and advanced horseback riding, which count toward the physical education requirement.