The Yale equestrian team is young. It is an organization younger than its members, and it has a large — and talented — freshman class.
But, despite outdated facilities and only nominal funding from Yale, the team is quietly maturing into a regional power.
In the last show of the season, hosted by Yale on Nov. 11, the riders placed second out of 12 schools — led by seniors Margot Sanger-Katz, Leah Sartorius and Laura McCargar.
“It was a great finish,” team captain Sanger-Katz said. “We’ve been kind of up and down this season.”
Yale riders won three of the eight undergraduate divisions on the day. Sanger-Katz won her section of the open flat, Philippa Pavia ’05 and Phoebe Heffron ’04 took their respective classes in the intermediate flat, and McCargar captured her section in the novice flat.
The team performed well, ranking fifth in the regional standings, even as riders were hampered by facilities so dilapidated that the team has been forced to practice at off-campus barns since 1998.
Yale played host to the event, it took place at the Westbrook Hunt Club.
“We’re pretty competitive, but not as much as top teams,” Heffron said. “But school funding has a lot to do with it.”
Yale has still been able to attract some talented freshman. Jen Cummins ’05 has already entered the highest level of competition, the open division, and riders like Pavia have become regular contributors.
“[Pavia] has been one of our most consistent riders this season,” Heffron said.
The Yale equestrian team petitioned in 2000 for varsity status and an upgrade of its facilities, which are next to the Yale Bowl.
Sartorius and Sanger-Katz said that after they submitted the petition, Athletics Director Tom Beckett indicated that the facility would be renovated.
An unidentified alumnus offered to donate $1 million toward the reconstruction and staffing of the Equestrian Center, and the University — which would have had to find more money to supplement the gift — commissioned a structural engineering report on the facility, a report that Sartorius, the team president, said cost $30,000.
But when the report came back, suggesting that renovations would come in at around $5 million, administrators’ interest seems to have cooled.
“Basically I think that [figure] halted everyone in their tracks,” Sartorius said.
The team, which has no full-time coach or stable manager and is a club sport, is nevertheless flourishing.
Since its start in the mid-1980s, the team has tripled in size and risen from consistently finishing at the bottom of the region to having the type of strong showing of this fall.
Part of a team’s trajectory has to do, simply, with its size — if a team has more riders, it has the chance to squeeze points out of riders from other teams. In each of a show’s events, one person from each team is designated the point rider for the event.
Equestrian teams, and there are more than 250 of them nationwide, are divided into zones and then into smaller regions. Riders compete for individual and team points, to advance from regional, to zonal, and then to national competition.
Yale also competes in the Ivy League Horse Show, where it has finished as high as fourth, behind Cornell, Dartmouth and Brown — all of which are varsity teams.