Riding in College: How to find the best option for you and where to look

Get tips on how to find the right college for you and your horse!

By Bernadette Palmeri

Choosing to join your school’s equestrian team or riding club can be a great opportunity to ride during college and be part of a team. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) is a nation-wide organization that offers thousands of college students a chance to compete and earn scholarship money in both Western and English riding. [Visit www.IHSAinc.org for more information and to see if your school is part of the IHSA.]

Apart from the IHSA, many schools have clubs that are independent and offer students a chance to take lessons and ride at a local barn. Whether you plan to bring your horse to school with you, or you are looking for the occasional trail ride, there is a place out there for you! Here are a few steps that will help guide you through your decision.

college horse riding

The author and some members of the Connecticut College Equestrian Team at an IHSA horse show.  

Do your research: Even if you are unsure about joining your school’s equestrian team, it is best to learn all you can about the local riding opportunities near your school. Ideally, if you go to a school with a large equestrian program or an "equestrian college" there would be a barn on campus. However, if you are somewhere less rural, your school team may have a nearby barn where students can ride and/or board their horses. Take advantage of the popular websites within your discipline (useventing.com, ushja.org, ustrailride.org, usdf.org, etc.) that can suggest barns and trainers in the area. If your school does not have an equestrian team, perhaps a close-by college or university does and can offer you some information.

Reach out to current team members: Believe it or not, the men and women who run most intercollegiate teams were in your shoes just a few years ago. Students on these teams range from beginners to experienced competitors and often accomplish some of their greatest horseback riding achievements during college. From organizing lesson schedules to running the horse shows, the students on these teams work incredibly hard to ensure that their season runs smoothly, and that there are enough funds so that riding is affordable for each team member. They are constantly looking to recruit people in an effort to support the future development of their teams, so any outside contact from potential members is always welcome!

Ask questions: You know that one parent on every college tour who asks too many questions and seems to be incredibly over-prepared for everything? This is your chance to be that person! If you are bringing your own horse with you to a local barn, make sure you are aware of every aspect of the farm. Each barn owner does things a little differently, and it is best to know the ins and outs of your potential new home before you commit to boarding and/or riding there. Similarly, if you are looking for a less serious situation and would enjoy the occasional riding lesson or hack, be sure to get all the information before you make any final decisions. Make a list of questions before you get to the barn so you are prepared and get the information you need.

Be yourself: As corny as it may seem, the barn at school will be your home away from home for the next four years. Whether you choose to be competitive on the collegiate level or you want to find a nice trail riding barn in the area, the best way to find the right place for you is to stick to what you know and trust. Think about what you value at your home barn and look for these qualities in the horses and the people while shopping for a riding opportunity in college.

Despite your apprehensions about entering a new horse community, if you follow these simple steps, you will have the best chance of making the right decision for you! I am living, breathing proof that no matter what your riding history, being part of an equestrian team in college is an incredible experience – as a diehard eventer who boarded her horse at hunter barns during college, and joined her school’s competitive equitation team, I can vouch for the experience of riding in college. No matter what path you choose for your college riding career, always remember, any day on a horse is a good day!


About the Author: Bernadette Palmeri is a recent graduate of Connecticut College and currently enjoys Eventing with her horses throughout the Northeast.