Firstly, something needs to be asked. How much do you really know about this sport? In order to gauge a general idea of the stereotypes associated with equestrianism, the sport only needs to be googled. The resultant headline, dominating the screen, was unsurprising: “Queen heads out for horse ride in Windsor Park”. Either the internet is inadequate or our perceptions are drastically misinformed.
This interview is proof of the hard work and dedication required to truly succeed in this sport. In fact, the information uncovered whilst perusing the GB equestrian website – from dressage to eventing and show-jumping – was fascinating. The diversity of competition categories was astounding, pointing to the range of rider’s skills and the strict standards upheld when training the horses. Emma Harckham, social rep and next year’s president and Kirsty Winkle, Club captain, represent this diversity. Both come from different riding backgrounds, one fostering a love of dressage and the other, for jumping and cross-country.
Adding more fuel to the fire are the existence of several polls which list equestrianism amongst the world’s top 10 hardest sports. Even in this short time, admiration for these sportsmen and women can only deepen.
On the international stage, competitions like the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games unfold, with riders participating on horses with whom they are accustomed and who have been groomed to withstand the pressure of competing at a high standard. However, the BUCS league presents a challenge in this respect. With only two minutes to warm up on a horse which they have never competed on before, the members of the St Andrews team are faced with unpredictable riding conditions that demand physical skill (a strong core), alongside a mental strength to maintain concentration and focus. Renowned British rider, Zara Phillips, acknowledges these difficulties- “You cannot make horses safe”. Thus, the successes of the Riding Club are all the more no-table in the face of such demanding conditions.
It was around a year ago that The Saint interviewed the Riding Club about their achievements in the 2014 season, which were impressive. Kirsty says that the A team placed 8th out of 80 teams participating at nationals, which is a testament to the hard-working ethos that has become engrained within the club. The smooth transition to the 2014-15 season, is marked by the continued success of two A-team individuals, Antoine Porte and Haley Meyers, who have qualified for this year’s Nationals competition. The Club had also set a target for this season – the desire for the B team to reach the Nationals competition – which they are ever closer to recognising. The team has enjoyed an undefeated season and with regionals around the corner (which determine qualification for Nationals). Both Emma and Kirsty remain optimistic about their chances of proceeding. The Club’s progression shows no sign of faltering and this success represents a sport team which is achieving all goals that they set themselves.
Admittedly, a jewel in the Riding Club’s crown would be the facilities that they have at their disposal. Travelling time to Drumcarrow is minimal, and access to this first-class facility and coaching is bound to be a major factor in their success. However, Drumcarrow is not exclusive to the eight competitive riders, In fact, Kirsty indicated that she was proud of the opportunities that the Club offers to beginners. She recognises them as a vital factor to club spirit, their light-heartedness and eagerness to learn more about the sport, revitalises the club and commits them to developing a new contingent of riders. Although both Kirsty and Emma have been riding since young, the club remains committed to extending the passion for horses and love of riding beyond their current membership. The Saints Riding Club prides themselves on being the most accessible club at the University. They welcome a large group of beginners each semester and improve their skills through lessons. This forward-thinking approach is bound to serve them well in the future.
Finally, Emma wishes to rid the stereotypes associated with the Riding Club, saying that “often people would describe us as a ‘small’ and ‘nerdy’ club”, yet this definitely does not seem the case. The numerous social events from sinners to a party bus, suggest a vibrant club filled with opportunities to establish new friendships. When asked about their idols within the sport, some friendly banter ensued. Kirsty says that globally Britain is faring well, with three riders occupying the top ranks in their individual events. However, this statement prompted light competition, something which Emma notes is frequent between the American and UK students at the club, when they challenge each other over who is the star of the equestrian world. Such lively debate offers a flavour of the dynamism within the club.
When asked about the Club’s future, Emma called for “a more integrated club through socials and events” and Kirsty “spoke of continuing to work on succeeding in regional and national competitions”. This sums up the club perfectly, a marriage between success in competitions and building an unrivalled team spirit. This club continues to buck stereotypes and trek its way to sporting success with hard work and of course, a lot of fun.