Hickory Hill Farm, a 20-minute car ride from Gambier, could easily grace an Ohio postcard: A white picket fence runs over bright green hills, nestled between which are two white buildings, a riding ring and the horses Kenyon’s Equestrian Team (KCET) rides. Composed of 38 members, six horses and a guard llama named Llance, this small club team has more to offer the community than just their late-night pancake fundraisers. Despite being a club team, KCET will be represented by Maddie Morgan ’18 at a national horseback-riding competition this May.
Morgan will be representing Kenyon at the 2016 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Championship on May 5, at The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. She will be riding in the Advanced Walk, Trot, Canter Division, making her the second Kenyon student to compete at nationals in the last four years. Before her, Celine Aenlle-Rocha ’15 placed 10th at nationals in the Walk-Trot Division as a sophomore. To get this far Morgan has gone through three rounds of trials: competition, regionals and zones, all governed by the IHSA.
The IHSA is a complicated network of 37 regions in eight zones across the U.S. and Canada. To qualify for the national competition, Morgan first had to score 36 points over the past two years in various competitions with KCET. After reaching a score of 36 points, Morgan was invited to regionals, from which the top two riders advance to the zones competition. Kenyon’s zone encompasses Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania. At zones the top two riders qualify for nationals, and this year Morgan placed first. Morgan is excited to travel to “big horse country” — Kentucky — in May, but the ride to get to this point has been a long one for her and the entirely student-run team. KCET pays for everything from finances to travel — and it takes a great deal of money to care for a horse.
According to Kohn, costs can add up to $600 per month to care for and house a horse. KCET does not own their horses; instead, the team saves money by leasing most of them from owners in the area. Yet funding remains a continuous burden for the club. Last year the Business and Finance Committee (BFC) denied KCET the funds to add another horse to their roster. To care for the horses they do have, KCET raises money through an overnight, annual fall trip to work the concession stands at Cedar Point and additional late-night pancake fundraisers.
“It’s just what we need to do to help our horses, and we enjoy doing it,” Brooke Kohn ’18, the team’s horse show captain, said. “It’s a lot of fun and another great way to meet other members of the team, since we don’t all practice together at the same time.”
Members of the team carpool to take lessons for $35 per session at Hickory Hill Farm with Erica Parnisari, the previous district commissioner of Hunter’s Run Pony Club and an experienced rider who has taught riding for nearly 30 years.
“We offer lessons for all ability levels, for people that’ve never touched a horse before Kenyon and people that have been riding their whole lives,” Kohn said. For her, KCET has allowed her to get off campus once a week to do something she loves. “It, at least for myself, helped Kenyon feel a lot larger,” she said.
Kohn has been riding since the age of 10, a level of experience typical of horseback riders, and has loved it since that young age.
When looking at colleges, Kohn even considered choosing a school with a varsity riding program, but thought better of it.
“I didn’t want my life to be just riding,” Kohn said.
Now, as one of the team’s three co-captains, Kohn lights up when talking about her team and their horses. “I joined the minute I got to campus and I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.
Morgan, who is headed to nationals in May, feels the same way, even though it has been tough at times. One such experience, which the team loves to recount at the start of each competition, occurred during Morgan’s first competition with KCET, in October 2015.
“It was my first horse show at Kenyon, and first legitimate horse show ever,” Morgan said. “I got on my horse, and there’s something: you can’t touch the horse’s tack, which is the saddle, girth, bridle. So you have the person holding the horse or the school that’s hosting the show adjust the tack — but I had no idea.”
At competitions like those, riders are assigned a horse at random and not allowed to ride them until they enter the ring, nor are they allowed to adjust the saddle, stirrups or bridle on the horse. “I got on the horse,” she said.
Eventually, Morgan realized her stirrups were slipping and her saddle was also moving. “I decided I was going to do an emergency dismount, which is basically you just throw yourself off of the horse, so you can avoid falling, but I was too slow. Essentially I just made a huge splat on the ground, which was great,” Morgan said, laughing.
Moments later, with her horse standing calmly, staring down at her, Morgan jumped back into the saddle and went on to place second in the competition, earning five points toward her national bid.
Many months later, and following a few more late-night pancake fundraisers, KCET is both excited to support experienced riders like Morgan and eager to welcome newcomers to the sport.
“We’re a very tiny, tiny team compared to the others, but we usually hold our own,” Kohn said.
Morgan will compete at nationals on May 5, with KCET’s next pancake fundraiser slated for April 20.