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Davis, California

Saturday, June 15, 2024

UC Davis women’s equestrian team members reflect on how their sport has impacted their lives

Riders say the equestrian community has provided them with social and emotional benefits 


By AMBER WARNKE — features@theaggie.org 


The riders of the UC Davis women’s equestrian team, established in 2018, compete in Western and English competitions across the country and practice three times a week at the Davis Equestrian Center.

The team has had a successful spring season, with a “dominant victory

against the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles,” scoring 15-0 and recording 1,161 points,

which marks UC Davis’s “most lopsided win in program history,” according to the UC Davis Equestrian website.

“This program has done some incredible things in the short span that it’s been

organized,” second-year history major Marin Gilliland said. “We went from having a really small team to winning our conference championships this year, which is a really big deal, and now we’re trying to go to Nationals next year.”

The team practices for two hours three times a week in addition to pre- and post-practice horse care, according to fourth-year history major Macey Newkirk. 

“We have an hour to get ready for practice,” Newkirk said. “And then it’s about an hour to take our horse out of practice, which means taking all the tack [gear] off and unsaddling and washing our horses after practice, so it’s a big deal.”

Though this is already a significant time commitment, Gilliland explained that the team would actually practice more if they had the funding to do so.

“We can’t afford any more horses,” Newkirk said. “If the university gave us more money, we’d be allowed to practice more, but that sadly has not been the case, so we’re only allowed to practice three days a week.”

While the team mostly takes care of and practices with the horses housed at the UC Davis Equestrian Center, when riders compete at other schools, they have to ride that school’s horses, which is an added difficulty, according to Gilliland. 

“When you go away to other schools, […] you only have four minutes to learn the horse before you have to do your event,” Gilliland said.

Despite the challenges of growing a young program, members of the team say the camaraderie between the riders is worth the difficulties, and being on the team has shaped their experiences at UC Davis. 

“As a person, it kind of shaped who I am today,” Newkirk said. “It allowed me to get to UC Davis [and] gave me every opportunity I’ve had. The Davis team is genuinely a big family. This team is absolutely everything you could wish for to welcome you into this town as a student-athlete.”

Many of the team members grew up riding horses before coming to UC Davis. Gilliland was introduced to riding around the age of nine by her mom and grandmother, who both grew up participating in the sport. 

“My grandmother always rode because a lot of people rode at that time,” Gilliland said. “They rode Holo Lio [which means “horse riding” in Hawaiian] […] and then because my grandmother rode, my mom got into riding, and then so on — I got into riding. The whole community in Hawaii, where I grew up riding, everyone knew everyone, and it was a really nice community to grow up in and learn my sport in.”

For Gilliland, growing up in Hawaii impacted her equestrian opportunities. 

“Not a lot of people, at least in my disciple, which is show jumping, have the opportunities to be able to ride on the mainland, or at a higher level because we’re on an island in the middle of the ocean, so it’s a little harder to get the supplies and scholarships over there,” Gilliland said. “You have to work extra hard to be able to get […] recruited to a college, which requires a lot of work and a lot of time.”

Gilliland is proud of her background as a horseback rider from Hawaii and hopes that more opportunities will open up for Pacific Islander riders in the future. 

“For me, the value of riding is proving that people from Hawaii, Pacific Islanders,

anybody, can make it to a college team and ride at this high level,” Gilliland said. “It’s all possible; we just need the opportunities to do it. Because we’re so small, we all have to stick together and work hard to enjoy our sport and make it possible for up-and-coming generations to have access to opportunities that maybe we didn’t have when we began riding. The road is being paved, and people are getting the opportunities that they deserve because there are some really talented riders over there. It’s an ocean away!”

Second-year communication major Kendall Lance is also a member of the team. She explained that she was introduced to the sport when her mom found a Groupon for a horse riding camp. 

“I had always begged her to ride horses, and she let me go and it just went on from there,” Lance said. “I started doing more regular lessons and then leasing a horse and then owning a horse, and now I’m here.”

Lance has thus far enjoyed her experience as an equestrian at UC Davis, and said she loves striving towards winning competitions as a team.

“I love it here,” Lance said. “The team’s really awesome; we have a really great team culture. I think because it is a newer team still — I think this was the fifth year of competitions — so everyone is still hunting for those big goals. It’s really awesome being a part of a group of girls where we all have the same values.”

Written by: Amber Warnke — features@theaggie.org