I’ve been back riding at school for three days, and I already have a long-distance relationship with my stirrups. I can barely trot three times around the ring without hearing “…aaaaaand drop your irons” (and barely trot three more times around without feeling that familiar burning pain we all know and love). I know it’s good for me, and the end results are certainly tangible, but I can’t help feeling a pang of terror every time my boots part from my hallowed stirrups.
As a captain of the Tufts University Equestrian Team (affectionately referred to as “TUEQ”), I have to work hard to not only do well in competitions but to set an example for my teammates. To do so requires that I arrive at each lesson mentally and physically fit with a bottle of Tylenol and a heating pad at the ready.
I hope that later in the season riding without stirrups won’t prove to be such an ordeal. But spending the summer riding some wonderful foxhunters in Virginia and messing around on my amateur horse (the key word here being “amateur”) hasn’t exactly been a butt-kicking experience. Now, my nose is irrevocably pressed to the grindstone in hopes that I can help our team win the region. It won’t be an easy task, considering we compete against Brandeis, Wheaton, Wellesley, Stonehill, Boston College, Boston University, MIT, Endicott, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell and Bridgewater State College, but it’s definitely an attainable one. We’ve been second in the region too many times, so we’re hungry for blue this year!
Because I ride in the open division of the IHSA, I am also trying to qualify myself for the Cacchione Cup finals at Nationals. At the end of the season in March or April, the two open riders with the most points in the region advance to Zones to compete against the other top open riders. From there, the top two riders move on to Nationals to battle it out with the other top open riders in the country in the Cacchione, which consists of a flat phase and an over fences and test phase.
I’m lucky to have a fabulous group of people to work with, though. My co-captain Cecilia Pontoriero, in addition to being one of the funniest and most down-to-earth people I know, was a captain last year and always has advice and guidance at hand.
Our coach, Katie Schaaf, is incredibly knowledgeable, helpful and fun to be around. Katie always pushes us to try harder and to mine our inner strength—constant no-stirrup work and endless amounts of riding in one’s half-seat can often have adverse affects on one’s psyche, including the muttering of certain un-ladylike words under one’s breath as one’s muscles slowly melt until reaching a smashing Jell-o-like consistency. She’s also a Tufts alum and a Harvard law school graduate; too bad we have such a slacker coach.
Regionals, Zones and Nationals seem like a long way away but there’s nothing like having months of hard work and preparation behind oneself, and that process starts now.