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LSU Equestrian Club looks forward to competition season

Like a postcard from the West capturing a moment in time, the sun has fallen; stacking hues of violet and rose provide a backdrop to a trail of horses, trotting in the sand. The dust rises at their hooves, eventually reaching their manes. But this picturesque moment isn’t out west, it is off Old Jefferson highway in Prairieville, La.

Mounted on horseback are a few members of the LSU Equestrian Club, making the rounds of walking, trotting and jumping during an evening practice. The practice is lead by the coach, alumna Leaf Boswell, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences.

“I started riding horses when I was nine, which is much later than most,” Boswell said. “It was something I always wanted to do.”

The Equestrian Club formed in 1999, although their first complete year of competition was in 2000. The club was recognized by the College of Agriculture before becoming an official club under the university.

The club competes in shows registered with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Associate, or IHSA. LSU competes in Zone 7, Region 2, along with Tulane University and other schools in Texas and Oklahoma.

During the 2006-07 season when Boswell started coaching the club, leading them to qualify for nationals for the first time, and every year since. That year, the group was named zone 2, region 2 champions, and sent three riders to the national competition. One of those riders qualified to compete in the Cacchione Cup, one of the highest honors in the IHSA.

In years since, the IHSA zones have changed and the club has earned Zone 7 champion; Zone 7, Region 2, champion; Zone 7, Region 2, reserve champion; sent the entire team to nationals; and had another rider qualify for the Cacchione Cup.

“The best part about coaching is watching them become better riders,” Boswell said. “Their confidence grows.”

When it’s time for a competition, or a show, the host college provides the facility, along with enough horses and equipment to suit all of the riders. While that makes for easy travel, it certainly provides a home team advantage -- but every school gets a chance to host. Riders are randomly assigned a horse through a draw, 20 minutes prior to competing.

“There is no warm-up during a competition,” Boswell said. “Most people would think you’re crazy to get on a strange horse, but you realize how much you can do.”

Equestrian, in general is the art of anything horse-related, however it is often associated with the strict rules and guidelines of horse riding, along with the signature uniform— knee-high leather boots, tailored pants called breeches, wool jacket and a riding helmet.

The LSU club competes in hunt seat, which is a precise form of showmanship using English saddles. In general, the rider must sit in the saddle a certain way, position hands light and always appear in control. Riders are judged on everything from the angle of their wrists and heels to their shoulder positioning and whether their calf is touching the horse properly.

“You learn to adapt fast,” Boswell said. “It’s more than just sitting right. When you enter the ring you’re being judged.”

Riders can be tested while the horse is walking, trotting or cantering in a form of competition known as “on the flat.“ They also navigate their mounts over a course of jumps, or “over fences.” The points earned during a competition help place the rider in their classification of novice, intermediate and open -- the most advanced class. Each class has its own requirements, such as being able to jump a fence of 2-3 feet.

While the rules and requirements seem small, it makes for a sophisticated show of the relationship between the rider and her horse—something that sets this sport apart from most others.

“With riding, the real challenge is you’re not the only team member,” said animal science junior Ashley Hess, the club’s vice president. “There is a living, breathing animal underneath you that makes their own choices as well.”

According to the IHSA Rulebook, “Equestrian sport is made possible by the animals, who serve the rider. This is a sport of grace and elegance, where rider and animal work as a team.”

LSU hosts one competition each season, usually in the Parker Coliseum on campus or at BREC’s Farr Park. The horses the club practices with are privately owned, so they provide those, along with donated horses for the day, to the competitors.

“We live off of the goodwill of the people around here,” Boswell said. “It really is a team effort to keep this going.”

The club, made up of nearly 30 riders, is completely self-funded. Some of the members have their own horses, but mention the cost—$450 each month, just to board their animal. Boswell says she denies calls for horse donations often, simply because of the lack of money to care for the horses.

“There is so much interest in the horse industry here, and people really want to help these teams,” Boswell said. “We could be competitive right now; there are great riders in Louisiana.”

Boswell’s hope for the future of the club is to become a varsity sport in the NCAA and compete in the SEC.

“It will take awhile for things to fall into place,” Boswell said. “But the possibility is out there.”

For anyone interested in trying out for the Equestrian Club, a tryout meeting will be held Aug. 26 in the Capital Chamber in the Union at 7 p.m.

“When I came to LSU, I was from out of state and didn’t know anyone,” said political science and sociology junior Rebekah Myers, the club’s president. “The team was a great way for me to fit in somewhere on campus. It’s nice to do what you love with a bunch of people who have the same interests.”

Holly A. Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
August 2010