A large blue barn just off campus, a reprieve from the cold and refuge for eager horseback riders, filled with dust as the Northwest Horseman’s Association galloped across its dirt-covered ground. Each horse and rider weaved between cones much like how the equestrian club weaved its way onto campus.
The NW Horseman’s Association officially became active fall 2019. Since then, these biweekly rides at the adviser, English instructor C.J. Holthaus’ barn, have become routine, along with regular service events. Selling Valentine’s Day gifts in the J.W. Jones Union as the group did the week of Feb. 3, however, was new. The hope was that those gifts would get them one jaunt closer to the group’s goal: the opportunity to compete.
The candy and roses scheduled to be delivered Feb. 14 are just one form of fundraising the group has done to offset the potential cost of competing against neighboring schools such as Missouri State University and Kansas State University through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which the group hopes to do in the fall.
Competing through IHSA is one of the most cost-efficient ways to compete, which is a priority for the students and the association as a whole. Opposed to what Holthaus estimated as $500 for travel and $2,500 for registration and lodging for the horse, IHSA competitions cost between $40-$80. Instead of transporting horses to IHSA events, participants choose a horse out of hat and perform horsemanship patterns, or routines, with that horse, one that they are entirely unfamiliar with.
“An issue that past clubs separate than ours encountered is that undergraduates are broke. All the time,” Holthaus said. “So, the big expectation for lessons to be free is that all students need to participate in fundraisers and then just common barn courtesy: like if you ride it, you feed it; if you open it, you close it. And we’re just kind of helping one another out that way.”
Freshman Elizabeth Brightwell, a member of NW Horseman’s Association, has ridden horses for 13 years, and she was extremely excited to hear about the prospect of this new style of competition.
“It’s just testing your basic horse skills on a wide variety of horses, which is interesting because every horse likes to be asked differently and has different preferences when being asked, and you don’t know that when you compete, so it’s all about, in that split instance, how do you guys go through the pattern, which I think is a really interesting idea,” Brightwell said. “I didn’t even know that was a competition. I thought you needed a horse to compete, and it’s really nice to know you don’t need a horse to compete.”
Participating in fundraising is one of the few expectations to be a part of the organization, secondary to what the website boasts as the organization’s only requirements: enthusiasm and willingness to get in on the fun. Experience is not necessary, nor is owning a horse.
“We have people who start riding in August and had never touched a horse before, and we have people who have more than a decade of experience,” Holthaus said. “Everywhere in between — it doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome, and there’s a place for each of those riders to be successful and gain skills.”
Tuesdays and Thursdays, the group gets together to ride. There are free rides and clinics or lessons, where the riders practice skills for competition, like patterns and precision of movements. Sophomore, NW Horsemen’s Association President Melissa Richter accentuated the importance of both.
“We can learn what they’re going to ask us in the show ring. ... That’s the lesson aspect of it,” Richter said. “The free ride aspect is just getting in there to ride, getting more practice in. It’s not much different from, like, a basketball player going in and shooting hoops.
The lessons are adapted to the skill level of each individual rider. Freshman NW Horseman’s Association Vice President Anna Abdelalhaleem had never ridden independently before joining the organization.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on horses for 15 year or if you’re just hopping on one for the first time,” Abdelalhaleem said. “She (Holthaus) knows how to teach you and how to guide you through everything, and she challenges you every time. She’s not going to give the same lesson to someone with experience than someone who just started riding.”
The riders also teach and assist each other. Richter’s voice was heard sporadically echoing through the barn, sharing tips and shouting reassurances like, “There you go” and “very nice.”
In addition to learning about the horseback riding, the organization also does equestrian community service hours. Last semester, the group volunteered with Equine Faith Horsemanship in Conception Junction, Missouri, helping with hippotherapy and lessons for primarily young and disabled riders. The group has also spoken with city officials about helping to make the signs labeling the recreational horse-riding trails at Mozingo Lake more visible.
“So far, for a really young organization, it’s been kind of phenomenal the amount of stuff they’re been able to do,” Holthaus said.