Though the University of Richmond equestrian team may not generate quite as much publicity as Spider football, its members are determined to make this year different. They are planning to take action to leave an impact on their school, their competition and their community.
The equestrian team, made up of 22 women, has high hopes for this season. Riders have big plans for competitions this fall and new members are giving a new confidence to the team dynamic.
This year, the team's roster almost doubled last year's.
Sarah Thompson, the team's new head coach and a Richmond graduate, said that she was excited about the new members.
"Our team used to be around 12 people and now we have 22, so we picked up quite a few girls," she said.
Emma Hines, senior president of the team, said she was happy about this year's freshmen turnout and excited to see what they might bring to the team.
"This year we have a bunch of freshmen who have been very competitive, [which] should be able to bring our scores up a little bit," Hines said. "We are really looking forward to that."
This is sophomore Caroline Elia's second year on the team. She said that although horseback riding was often seen as an individual sport, every rider had the good of the team in mind when competing. She said she was confident that this year would be a successful one.
"As a team, we'd definitely like to move up in our standings," Elia said. "It's about personal and team improvement."
The team could see some dollar signs in its future, too. According to the University of Richmond Recreation and Wellness website, more funding is ahead for club sports programs.
Club sports funding is what keeps these programs alive, and for the equestrian team -- one of Richmond's most expensive club sport -- funding would mean a great deal to its members.
Aside from the $430 membership fee, team members must also buy costly equipment and clothing.
"Most of the equipment is leather," Hines said. "Boots for shows can be $300. Jackets range from $200 to $300."
And that doesn't even cover competitions. In order to "show," a rider must pay an extra $30 per semester.
"But in the riding world, that's pretty cheap," Hines said.
As president, she said she planned to cut down the financial burden through incorporating funding offered by the university.
"We've never really used funding before, which is unfortunate because our dues are so expensive," Hines said.
After applying for funding, the team could get up to $1,000 for travel if they choose to use a van provided by Richmond. Other funding could help decrease the financial burden for those riders who couldn't afford equipment or membership dues.
"I really want to make this more of an affordable year," Hines said.
Despite high costs and little funding, Elia and Hines said they were still passionate about what they did.
"My favorite thing about the team is that it gives me a chance to get off campus and do what I love," Elia said. "I don't know what I'd do without it. It keeps me sane."
This is Hines' 15th year riding horses: "I've been riding since second grade," she said.
As a child, Hines never took riding seriously until her family moved when she was in sixth grade. That's when they began taking in rescue horses.
"I worked with therapeutic riding programs that would give pony back rides to people who were physically and mentally handicapped," Hines said.
This year, her leadership role will allow her to incorporate her love for community service into the club program.
"We are thinking of partnering with this therapeutic riding program in town," she said. "Hopefully we will have a set day a week that girls will go out and lead a horse around and work with these mentally and physically handicapped people."
The program is called Horses in Service Natural Therapeutic Riding Center and is located on Hines Road in Richmond. So far, the feedback from riders has been positive.
"I'm really excited to get involved with this," Elia said. "It will be a great thing for the team to do, not only to help out the community but to also spend more time together."
The university might also recognize their service and offer them an incentive for community engagement.
"Any club that wishes to participate will get $3,000 per year, split between whoever participates," Hines said. "So if two club sports do it, equestrian will get $1,500."
That money would help decrease dues to allow more riders to join and lessen the financial load on individual members.
Thompson said that working in the community would benefit team morale, which could translate positively in show competitions. She has set high goals for the team.
"We are up against some pretty stiff competition like Goucher [College] and [University of] Mary Washington," Thompson said. "So, if we could finish in the top four in our region, that would be amazing."
The equestrian team's first show is scheduled in November at its home barn in Ashland.
Contact staff writer Julia Pepe at email@example.com