A Look Inside the Stables

The equestrian club returns to winning form after a two-year hiatus.

By Tumi Mosiah

Equestrian is one of the most unique disciplines in Northeastern’s lively sports scene. The club equestrian team competes in equitation classes – a form of riding where the rider is judged instead of the horse – in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA).

As part of Zone 1, Region 2, they travel around Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine during their busy fall show season. All this travelling for back-to-back show weekends and grueling weekday lessons at Harmony Horse stables in Littleton, MA – 40 minutes from campus – creates an environment and camaraderie that the team cherishes.

“We leave pretty early at the crack of dawn. We drive together in a van and have a Dunkin’ stop on the way,” Senior and co-captain Caitlin Looney noted. “On the way home after the show, we’re all sleepy and we don’t get back until usually pretty late at night.”

Looney has been riding since she was six years old and owns her own horse. However, the style of collegiate competitions means that she must draw a horse she has not ridden before from a hat on show day. While this is an added challenge for the team, they make sure to plan for it the best they can with various different practice sessions.

“It’s either you’re really happy or you draw and you’re like ‘Oh no!’” Looney said. “Therefore, at home, we try to practice by riding different types of horses – ponies versus horses, hot horses versus lazy ones.”

Once the draw has finished the team looks out for each other on show day, from giving tips on particular rides to helping each other put on their gear – hairnets, shining boots and all. However, the most important part of the post-draw time is walking the course and then warming up on the horse.

This way, in the arena, “we can focus on communicating with our horse and putting on a good test for the judges,” Looney said. This telepathic communication with their ride is key.

Senior and co-captain Sam Cashton started riding at age 11 and was influenced by her mother who rode horses. Today, she owns her own horse back home with whom she has developed a strong relationship.

“Horses are such smart, beautiful animals that pick up on your energy,” Cashton said. “It’s definitely time-consuming and feels daunting. But being with the horses is the most rewarding thing.” Cashton loves the competition element but never forgets to appreciate stable time with the horses.

When they are at show weekends, Looney explains, “What the judges look for in equitation classes is executing movements with ease and control over the horse.” For this Cashton said, “We do mental prep – we say what we’re excited for, what we’re nervous for. This is important because the horses react to your energy – they feel when you’re calm and the energy transfers.”

For the most talented horse-rider combination, seven points are awarded, second place acquires five points and third gets four points. This accumulates into the team’s total points determining the overall winning team for the day. The team works hard with two lessons a week which takes up to four hours out of the day. COVID-19 put a damper on the team’s performance as any time away makes it difficult for both the horses and the riders to get back into the swing of things. Their show in Dartmouth in fall 2021 was the first time in nearly two years that they were back in the ring.

But it didn’t take long for the rust to come off, with a win at the Athletic Equestrian League Collegiate Virtual Nationals in spring 2021. The team has continued to achieve standout results this fall, placing second at the Vermont show and finishing third at the New Hampshire show. After pausing for break at the end of November, they’re expected back to shows in March with Nationals being held in April 2022.

“We’ve had some new riders who have won some classes which is really exciting because they’ve never shown,” Looney said proudly. “We have a new coach and a new facility and it’s been an adjustment period. [But] we’ve had great performances from everybody and we’re really excited to keep building upon what we’re doing.”