SIU equestrian team members started to set up a barn on Furlong Lane at 5 a.m. Saturday for its first fall tournament.
Not every team member competed in the tournament, but the whole team was responsible for its production. Members not only found and organized the teams involved such as Illinois State University, Northern Illinois and Western Illinois, but they also ensured the horses were both physically and mentally ready for a day full of riders and raised the necessary funds to cover costs and expenses.
Maureen Latona, equestrian team president, said the team doesn’t usually get as much support to host events because it is a smaller club sport.
“For the past five years, we have done a fall show,” she said. “As prices continue to increase, it gets harder to put on events. This year’s show cost about $5,000 … We raised that through a lot of bake sales and fundraising.”
Latona, a senior studying hospitality and tourism administration, said the tournament took about six to eight months to organize. Ten mid-western teams participated during the weekend, most of which were about five to seven hours away. More than 50 riders were present, 24 horses were used and there were 18 different divisions for the various levels of experience present.
The 18 divisions are split into two categories of competition: fences where riders jump over obstacles and flat where riders make the horses walk, trot (jog) or canter (sprint).
SIU took second place in Saturday’s competition.
Latona said the team will try to participate in eight tournaments during the season, three of which will be hunt shows, and the others will be stock shows.
“In hunt shows, the rider wears breeches, tall boots, a dress shirt, a show coat, and a helmet,” Latona said. “The difference between hunt and stock is that in stock shows, riders wear a more fancy shirt and aren’t allowed to practice on horses before the show. There is only one coach for hunt shows, but there can be multiple for stock.”
Ashani Hamilton, a freshman from Brooklyn, N.Y., studying animal science, said he didn’t expect to become so involved with the equestrian team but really enjoys spending time with his teammates.
“I grew up on farms in (rural) New York, so I have always been comfortable with animals like horses,” Hamilton said. “Being on the team has been great in keeping me involved and it’s a great way to meet people.”
Latona said Hamilton is one of seven males on the team, which is a growing trend in a generally female-populated sport.
Margo Lyons, a junior from Naperville studying geography and environmental resources who won first place in her division, said the horses responded well given that this was their first event in some time.
“I think my horse really enjoyed being in the competitive atmosphere. We really had some good chemistry out there today,” Lyons said. “I have really come to love the connection between rider and horse. Don’t get me wrong though, some horses love you and some don’t. That’s what makes the shows so interesting.”
Latona, said experience could be the determining factor for success.
“The more practice you get, the better your form will be and you will be able to ride different horses when they have different attitudes. Most importantly, you will be able to develop a bond with the horses and communicate better with them. ” she said.
Latona also said riders would usually want three or four practices a week to stay sharp. She said she could only practice about once a week, which makes staying competitive in the sport difficult because she is a full-time student.
Daniel Schmidt, a sophomore from Crystal Lake studying animal sciences, said the team is very helpful with providing lessons for those interested in riding.
“Horse riding lessons can be pretty expensive, but our equestrian team and staff try to make it as affordable as possible,” Schmidt said. “They even allow you to work off your lessons if money becomes an issue.”
Latona, while petting her competition horse, said the horses are the most important part of equestrian team.
“Every horse is really different from the next,” she said. “They are a lot like people that way. We often joke around here that the horses take on human personalities. One horse is the cool jock, another is like the old man with a shotgun and some are very flamboyant and showy,” she said.