In a school full of Aggies, it’s no surprise how many equestrian programs are on the UC Davis campus.
There’s a horse polo team, event team, rodeo team, driving team, high jumper team, western team and dressage team, as well as competitions for each team and group and private lessons.
The horse polo club, officially named the Oakdale Horse Polo Club until they can be officiated as a UC Davis sports club again, has about six members and practices on weekends in Oakdale.
Caroline Vissers, a first-year animal science major and unofficial captain of the horse polo team, said that you do not have to know how to play to join the team. The club holds clinics to teach students how to play polo on horses donated by other polo associations or retired polo players.
The sport is different from other competitive sports on campus. There are three people on each team and one ball, slightly bigger than a softball. There are three positions, the “1,” “2,” and “3” – 1 being the most offensive and 3 the most defensive, Vissers said. There’s a specific place on a board players must hit the ball to score.
Vissers explained that horse polo involves many somewhat complicated rules involving hitting the ball at certain angles, moving your horse into the path of the ball and how fast you can ride, among others. Players often must push other players with their horse to get around these rules.
“Safety is our first priority,” Vissers said. Despite how dangerous the sport may seem she has never seen or taken a serious fall in horse polo.
The team plays against California schools in regional competitions, as well as against schools such as Cornell and Harvard at national ones.
The event team goes to three-day shows to compete in three different events: dressage, which is judged by how well the rider controls and communicates with their horse, cross-country, which requires the horse and rider to jump over natural obstacles in a field such as logs or hills, and stadium jumping, which requires the horse to jump a course set up with poles.
Audrey Schneider-Hawes, a junior anthropology major, is on the event team and teaches lessons at the equestrian center.
“I’ve been riding since I was six,” Schneider-Hawes said. “I never really grew out of the ‘I want a pony’ phase.”
She got a horse at 13, which she still owns and is housed at the equestrian center.
The event team competes against other colleges, practices together as a team and has lessons once a week with a trainer.
“Our team is really close, we hang out outside the team,” Schneider-Hawes said.
The team also holds two derbies each year for students to practice their skills in a show environment without being rated.
The equestrian center provides space for students to board their horses and offers beginning riding lessons on school-owned horses.
“The horses we have [for lessons] are really good, we don’t have to worry too much about the horses misbehaving,” she said. “But one of the first things we do teach students about is basic safety.”
The high jumper team rides in English (as opposed to Western) riding style and jumps over fences. Katie Dunn, a senior animal science major and member of the high jump team, said that a primary difference between the two styles is that English riding is more proper and concentrates on rider position.
For all the teams, except the event team, students do not need to own a horse.
The various equestrian teams practice during the school year and lessons run year around.
KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.