More to equestrian than meets the eye

By Korey Peterson

The sport of equestrianism is not all horsing around.

In fact, it is the human participants who are judged and given points while the horses get the attention. At the collegiate level, beginning riders or veterans of the sport have a place to showcase their skills and compete.

The NIU Equestrian Club currently has about 70 members, but only takes around 15 riders to its shows. The team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) in a division with eleven other universities in Illinois and Missouri.

There are several different events that the riders compete in while using horses provided by the host university. The events include: walk-trot, where the horses walk slowly for the inexperienced riders; beginner and advanced walk-trot-canter, which is faster than a trot but slower than a gallop; and novice, intermediate and open divisions of flat and jumping events.

Riders are given points by placing in the top six at each event, and can compete at the higher levels by accumulating a certain number of points.

“There are several divisions because it wouldn’t be fair to place someone like me in walk-trot with riders who are less experienced,” said junior club co-president Hannah Kautz, who has been involved with equestrianism for about 12 years.

Participants are judged by IHSA officials on equitation, or his or her effectiveness as a rider. According to the IHSA website, the goal is to make riding a horse seem “easy and effortless.”

While the NIU team uses horses in Elburn for training, the horses that riders use in tournaments are determined at random. Getting a good horse is an important part of doing well in competition.

“It is important to gain trust with the horse,” Kautz said. “It’s hard when you only have that horse for five minutes at a show, but if you’re scared, the horse will know it, so it is important to connect with that horse.”

Each member of the team gets the benefit of receiving professional training from their coach, Joleen Dewitt. She has been involved with equestrianism since childhood and has been with the NIU team for nine years. Before that, she competed with one of the most successful equestrian teams in the country at Virginia Intermont College.

Last year, NIU’s streak of consecutive regional IHSA championships was snapped with a tough loss to Truman State. NIU came away second in the region and sent a few individual riders to the IHSA national tournament. The team had previously won three consecutive regional championships from 2007 to 2009.

The NIU team did well at its first show of the year this weekend at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Several riders earned ribbons; the team placed second in Saturday’s events and first on Sunday.

“We were in good form this weekend,” Dewitt said. “I have a lot of sophomores and juniors this year. It is a great group of riders to choose from.”

The next show for NIU Equestrian will be at Illinois State Oct. 9-10. More shows will be added to the schedule before regional tournaments begin in April.