Wind is blowing on her face and dirt is flying up as she rides in what feels like a race car. But it’s a live vehicle. She’s on horseback. She gets an adrenaline rush as she guides her partner, Daisy, to jump over a hurdle more than four feet off the ground.
This exhilaration is one that Maya Peterson has experienced since she was five years old, when she rode a horse for the first time.
“You just feel extremely free,” said the sophomore integrated education studies major.
Peterson is a member of Chapman’s Equestrian Club, the school’s only competitive horseback riding club sport. The club is small—18 students who all share a passion for horses and the thrill of riding.
The club’s co-president Alexa Sikes, a senior sociology major, has been riding since she was ten years old. Sikes transferred to Chapman her sophomore year and reached out to the club as soon as she was accepted.
“It’s something that I really like to do so I choose to make time for it,” said Sikes.
Club members are required to take individual lessons at their own expense at least every two weeks and commit one to two hours in the gym per week. While some sports are more time consuming, Sikes wants the Equestrian Club to be everyone’s number one priority.
Students can bring their own horses from home and board them at a nearby barn; however, many do not, including Peterson. This meant finding a nearby trainer in her price range and determining their compatibility.
“There’s something between us,” said Peterson, about her relationship with her horse, Daisy. “We get each other.”
Peterson said picking the right horse is one of the most essential things a rider must decide on. There needs to be trust and understanding between horse and rider, two traits Peterson found with Daisy.
For Peterson, horseback riding is a stress relieving activity and being an active member on the team gives her a sense of stability. She has always been competitive and played on a team sport and this club provides that for her.
“It’s something to look forward to on the weekends,” said Peterson.
Peterson enjoys the team feeling of the club and the bonds that she has made from it.
“It was nice to be surrounded by such wonderful people who shared not only a passion for horses, but also … you can rely on the girls,” said Peterson.
When she joined the club and needed to learn a new discipline, the team stepped up and led her through it.
The Equestrian Club competes as part of the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, which currently includes 369 schools across the United States. Chapman’s team competes alongside 11 other Southern California and Arizona schools in their region five times in the regular season.
Horseback riding competitions are called shows and, according to the club’s advisor and coach, Jessica Bower, the club participates in “catch-ride” shows. In this style, each school in the region meets at one location and horses are brought by each school. Riders pick a horse at random so each rider is paired with a horse they have never ridden before to level the playing field.
“It takes money out of the equation,” said film production senior Leah La Masney, co-president of the Equestrian Club. Well-bred horses with highly experienced trainers are very costly; therefore, separating rider from horse gives each rider an even chance.
Riders compete to qualify for the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association’s national competition in Kentucky. In their inaugural year as an official club sport in 2015, the team went to the national competition and placed eighth in the highest division, according to La Masney.
The club hopes to return to nationals again in May and to gain new members in the years to come. One of their main goals this year is to show the Chapman community that they are an established and competitive team.
Members sport tank tops and jackets with the club’s logo around campus. During the Involvement Fair in September, the club decorated their table with ribbons won by their riders.
“We want the team to grow,” said La Masney, “and to have enough riders in each division.”
For Sikes, the Equestrian Club was the main reason why she transferred to Chapman. She would like to see the club transform into a more established team and, like herself, be a reason for students to come to Chapman.
The club is looking to do better in shows this season as they are getting organized and becoming a more well-rounded team. Riders of all levels and skills sets are welcome to join.
“Chapman Equestrian is a super awesome club,” said Peterson, “and we’re always looking to expand.”