Equestrian is an activity of elegance and beauty, but requires just as much intense mental, emotional and physical strength as any sport.
For the students involved in Temple’s equestrian club, there aren’t any huge crowds or overwhelming exposure, it’s just them and their horse – a feeling that not too many people have ever felt or understood, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The crowd doesn’t really matter,” said senior advertising major and club captain Sarah Jagiela. “The girls that are involved are a great group and we all get to know each other very well. It’s really more about having fun and getting to ride.”
Jagiela started loving horses at a young age, which created long-lasting memories, endless rides and a passionate love for horses. There’s still a picture of her first ride hanging on her refrigerator door back home in Schnecksville, Pa., and since that moment, she never looked back.
“I was always obsessed with horses and dogs when I was little,” Jagiela said. “I actually had my heart set on becoming a vet for years before I decided I wanted to go into communications and advertising. My mom called up a local stable and I’ve been lessoning ever since.”
Bianca Lee Lupo, a sophomore international business major and club vice president, grew up a street away from a show barn, so it didn’t take long for her to realize that this was the sport for her.
“It was kind of impossible for my parents to keep me away,” Lupo said. “When I was 6 years old, the trainer of the show barn came over and asked my parents if I could do lead line – she needed one more rider to run the class. My mom said I could do it and I have been riding ever since.”
Since riding, Lupo has noticed that the relationship between her and her horse is very powerful.
“I fell in love with horses because of the feeling I had when I was around them,” Lupo said. “They are beautiful animals and the bond that you can create with a horse is a magical feeling.”
Kimberly Dutill, a junior tourism and hospitality management major and club co-captain, started riding as a kid during her summers, but now is approaching the sport with more intensity.
“Riding as an adult has put a new layer on it,” Dutill said. “Not only is it just fun for me, it’s an escape from all the stresses of life. Riding takes complete mind and body concentration.”
Equestrian, although it appears to be a sport of pageantry and showmanship, can have serious physical demands, Dutill said.
“Riding uses muscles that you don’t use every day,” Dutill said. “So after those first three or so rides, yeah, the next few days are going to hurt.”
Equestrian consists of two different disciplines — English and Western. For English — which is more popular in this part of the country — Temple’s equestrian club competes in flat and jumping classes.
Flat classes are judged by the rider’s ability to control and manage the horse, while jumping classes are judged by how well the rider can get the horse over fences of variable heights.
Western includes rail classes and reining classes, which are rodeo-style events.
“Riders can choose which discipline they want to lesson in each week,” Jagiela said. “Not all schools in the area offer Western lessons, but we are lucky enough to have a trainer who knows a lot about Western riding and have access to a few horses that can go Western.”
Every week, the women of the equestrian club train about an hour away from Main Campus — away from the hectic environment of the city life at Temple.
“The club gives me a chance to ride in an environment where you wouldn’t think you would be able to continue riding,” Jagiela said. “It’s a great escape from the city once or twice a week to get out in the country and enjoy the outdoors and bond with the horses.”
When the equestrian club enters the barn, it is business as usual.
“We get up there, find out which horse we will be lessoning on, and groom them and get ready for the lesson,” Jagiela said. “This includes brushing the horse, cleaning out their hooves and tacking up. After the lesson, we do it all in reverse. We also usually give the horse a treat. Carrots and apples are the most popular, but mints are also a favorite.”
The equestrian club competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, where it rides against schools like Penn, Drexel, Salisbury, University of Delaware and Washington College.
“Almost everyone in the club goes to shows and it’s how we do most of our team bonding,” Jagiela said. “We have a huge amount of team spirit, watching and cheering for everyone in their class and helping girls get ready for their class by mounting their horse and cleaning their boots.”
This past year, Jagiela and some of her teammates found success in post-season competition, which continues to excite the captain.
“Last season I made it to regionals and one girl from the team made it to zones. We had girls from the team win high-point rider at a couple shows,” Jagiela said. “It’s exciting to have a girl from a city school win that ribbon as opposed to a girl from some of the schools out in the country where they have their barns on their campus.”
For the girls of the equestrian club at Temple, riding is more than competing and getting ribbons. It is a chance for them to escape civilization into a world they cherish, a world where the dominant species is a four-legged, majestic animal that only these girls can understand.
“I’ve always loved horses and when you’re riding, there is no comparison,” Jagiela said. “Having such a strong connection to this huge, powerful creature is beautiful, really.”
Thomas Mickens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.