Saturday, Jun. 1, 2024

A Team At Last!

Villanova, Pa.--a charming, upper-middle class suburb of Philadelphia, complete with beautiful homes, cute shops, attractive landscaping, and a location that any horse lover would be thrilled to settle into. Villanova is no more than 10 minutes away from the Devon Horse Show grounds and Radnor Hunt, with hundreds of riding facilities within a 50-mile radius.
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Villanova, Pa.–a charming, upper-middle class suburb of Philadelphia, complete with beautiful homes, cute shops, attractive landscaping, and a location that any horse lover would be thrilled to settle into. Villanova is no more than 10 minutes away from the Devon Horse Show grounds and Radnor Hunt, with hundreds of riding facilities within a 50-mile radius.

I entered my freshman year of college at Villanova University in the fall of 2003. The equine world had been my No. 1 passion in life from childhood through adolescence, and I always regretted having had to stop riding during high school, for a variety (mostly monetary) of reasons. As I scanned the university website for the various clubs and activities offered, one in particular immediately jumped out at me: the Villanova University Equestrian Club!

It had been years since I had last ridden, but the moment that I saw the link for the club, my love for horses and riding came flooding back to me. It felt like it had been so long since I was a part of the equine world that I never really considered being able to go back. There was a time in my life when riding boots were my only footwear of choice and early morning lessons were the best part of my week, and I yearned to go back to that.

I clicked on the VUEC website, and a handful of pictures and a couple of e-mail addresses were displayed. Without delay, I wrote an e-mail to one of the addresses, requesting more information on the club and its activities. Afterward, I began a search on the web for college, equine-related groups. I came upon the site for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. As I read about it, I became extremely interested. The concept of an organization that would allow college students to participate in horse shows at minimal costs seemed ingenious.

I looked under “Current Teams,” and scrolled down to see if I could find Villanova. I saw the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University (Pa.), Rider University (N.J.), University of Delaware, Delaware Valley (Pa.), Bucks County Community College (Pa.), in addition to a huge list of others. I couldn’t believe that Villanova was not listed! It seemed odd that it would be one of the only schools in the area without membership in the IHSA.

A week later, I received a disappointing e-mail from the address I had gotten from the VUEC website. It turned out that the e-mail address belonged to a previous officer of the club, who had graduated a couple of years before. She apologized for the confusion, gave me the e-mail address of the club’s academic advisor and wished me luck.

Undaunted, I sent another e-mail to this address. I soon received another disappointing response, which went something like this: “Dear Christina, I am sorry I am unable to provide you with adequate information on the equestrian club, but to be honest, the club has pretty much been nonexistent for as long as I can remember. I only act as the advisor to the club, since all clubs here at Villanova are required to have one. I believe that the equestrian club here was formed sometime in the ’70s by a few girls who loved horses, but there was always a problem getting the club going. The VUEC is notorious for having a ton of interest, but no one willing to step up to the plate and put in the effort.”

At the bottom of the e-mail, she included a couple of e-mail addresses of students who might be able to give me more information. So my e-mail quest continued on.

Pressing On

The next person I contacted was a student at Villanova who was supposedly part of the equestrian club. We began a correspondence by e-mail, and I learned that the club had a current president who was only a freshman (like myself), who had been thrown into the position by some upper-classmen who left the club unexpectedly. The student provided me with a copy of the club mailing list and the phone number of a local riding facility, and told me to go for it.

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Go for it? What did that mean? I didn’t quite understand the whole situation.

Everything was so unorganized and chaotic. With each person I contacted, I was provided with a small piece of the puzzle, but all I could think of was how much I wanted to be on a horse again.

Feeling confused, I called the riding facility and reserved a space for a group lesson. I then sent an e-mail out to the entire mailing list asking if anyone wanted to go with me. Out of a list of around 50 people, about half responded asking to be taken off the list because they had graduated, a bunch didn’t even respond, but a few expressed interest in going to the lesson. We planned to meet and went to our riding lesson.

One of the girls that came to the lesson had graduated but still lived in the area. She became an invaluable source of information to me, since she had held a club office when she was a student. As we drove to the lesson, she explained to me how the VUEC usually didn’t do too much. Some lessons would go on each year and a couple meetings would be held, but overall, nothing really happened.

I asked her about the IHSA, and she told me that various people had attempted to get Villanova into it but had failed due to the amount of work it would take. I couldn’t understand this; Villanova’s location would be so convenient for an equestrian team!

Why was no one willing to put in some effort when the outcome would be so well worth it?

I decided then and there that by the time I graduated Villanova (in 2007) there would be an IHSA team at the school.

The lesson that night was pure joy. The reunion couldn’t have been happier. My horse that night, a cute little bay, was named Monet. The past five years of my life without riding suddenly disappeared, and I was jumping by the end of the lesson. This only fanned the flame of my desire to form an equestrian team.

I soon got in touch with Alli, the freshman who had been thrown into the position of VUEC president that year. We immediately hit it off and realized that we had an equal amount of knowledge on the club.

In the back of my mind, all I could think about was the IHSA, but my first thought was that I didn’t want to attempt to do too much too soon. Interest amongst the students needed to be generated before anything else.

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To my happy surprise, however, Alli mentioned the IHSA to me, and we both immediately agreed that it was a great idea. Neither of us had any clue how to go about joining the IHSA, but this fact was ignored due to our enthusiasm.

Mission Accomplished

We dedicated the remainder of our freshman year to researching the IHSA and the process of joining. There were a lot of requirements: we would need a new riding facility capable of accommodating us, transportation, a coach, funding, insurance, and above all, a team of excited students who loved horses as much as us.

We began sending out e-mails and encouraging others to spread the word. I contacted numerous people at the IHSA; everyone from the executive director to the na-tional secretary was informed that Villanova was making its name known within the bounds of the IHSA!

Summer arrived, and I knew that by the time school started again, we had to be ready. I dedicated my entire summer to updating the equestrian club’s website, going over technicalities with the office of student activities at Villanova, e-mailing students who had expressed interest in joining an equestrian team, researching riding facilities, and trying to find a coach.

Somehow, once August rolled around and it was time to move back to good old Villanova, Alli and I had a riding facility, coach, team budget, plus more than we could have imagined. We held a couple meetings for the students who were interested, and in the end, had a team of 15 girls, of all experience levels!
It has not even been a year since the day I clicked on the VUEC website and sent the single e-mail that would begin this entire journey. When I stand beside the show ring and cheer on my teammates, the experience feels surreal. Sure, we have so much further to go as a team, and we don’t plan on making the nationals anytime soon, but look at what has been accomplished already.

In less than a year, Villanova University has gone from having a barely existent equestrian club to a fully functional equestrian team, and I could not be prouder of its members.

We may not have the fancy team jackets that the other teams have, and we may not pull up to shows in a big bus with our team’s name on it, but the heart and dedication are there. Who knows what another year may bring?

Christina Marrazza, a sophomore at Villanova University, is co-president of the Villanova Equestrian Team.

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