In their first horse show of the season, while everyone else stood around and clapped politely, the Yale Equestrian Team stormed the ring after the walk-trot portion.
“The judge was just looking at us and laughing,” horse show manager Jennie Nevin ’10 said.
It was the end of the horse show at St. Joseph’s, and a beginner rider had just received fifth place. Everyone was tired, Nevin said, but they were invested in the rider and felt that he had done a good job, resulting in their show of relatively rowdy behavior.
YET is a club team whose members have a lot of interest in one another. They also have a lot of talent, not a lot of funding and only one male member. The cost of participation limits the team to only about 20, but those who are able to join become part of a team where even beginning riders matter.
It takes commitment to ride with YET. On top of weekly practices, workouts, team dinners and gatherings, the tournaments every Sunday take the entire day. But the members of YET really like horses and really like riding, President Lauren Noble ’11 said. Plus, they’re talented.
“I’m going to say we’re very good,” said captain Joker Arroyo ’10.
She explained that many riders come in as freshmen with experience competing at a high national level; one former member had qualified for the Olympics, for instance. In last weekend’s show, hosted by Yale and Sacred Heart, YET tied for first place in points.
As much as the team’s success depends on their most advanced riders, it also depends on their more novice ones. The team has a wide range of skill levels, including members who join the team with very little experience. Tournaments are structured such that points awarded to novice riders at the walk-trot level have equal weight to those awarded to more advanced riders who compete at the cantering or jumping levels.
Tournaments are tiring, difficult affairs. Because competition locations are often far away, YET sometimes has to leave at five in the morning to drive two and a half hours before they start on the full day of events. Unlike most equestrian tournaments, the intercollegiate association recognizes that college students cannot often afford their own horses, so horses are provided for the competitors. Working with a strange horse is not easy, said Noble.
“You have to be able to get on anything and ride it,” she said.
Strange horses are just one of the many issues connected to financing that the members of YET have to deal with. The University awards the team with the same amount of money that it does to all club sports, but in this case, that sum — about $1,200 — is not enough to cover the costs of even one rider. Members have to pay for transportation to tournaments and expensive show clothes, Noble said. They have to pay for their use of the Rivers Edge Equestrian Center, about 20 minutes away, because the Yale Equestrian Center does not have adequate ground for jumping.
Although they have started a capital campaign — and so far have raised $25,000 — financial issues remain a significant worry of the team. Donations, like one from an alumna who provides bus transportation to and from tournaments, have helped. But YET has lost valuable riders when they could not afford to continue, Arroyo said. Many potential members back out once they realize the cost of commitment. Arroyo added that this weakens the team against other, larger schools, and prevents riders from capitalizing on their potential.
“I really can’t stress enough how the financial aspect has proved limiting,” she said. “I just wish there were more ways to ensure that the opportunities that [the riders] create for themselves can actually be realized.”
YET becomes a part of everyday life for its members. From organized meetings to random sushi runs, Nevin said she’s happiest when she’s around the team. A trip to New York City to the horse exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History is in the works.
Noble said competing in an individual sport in a supportive team environment is one of her favorite aspects of YET. Arroyo added that the team is a way for her to continue her sport, to take on a leadership role and to have fun with her fellow riders.
“Not seeing them would be kind of an issue,” she said.