Equestrian club saddles up for showmanship

Equestrian club saddles up for showmanship

Equestrian club saddles up for showmanship
November 11
00:20 2014

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Despite growing up on a ranch in New Mexico, Allen Clark was deprived of owning a horse. So when provost Warren Burggren informed him of an equestrian club at UNT, Clark was all ears.

The vice provost for academic resources, who bought his first horse in July, soon attended the UNT Equestrian Team’s Oct. 23 show in Argyle.

Clark left the ranch amazed by the team – its combination of experienced and beginner riders, properly equipped horses and the ability to pick up pointers from trainers – and has found himself eager to attend the team’s next performance.

“I’ve just been bitten by the bug,” Clark said.

Officially formed in spring 2013, the UNT Equestrian Team is led by the provost’s daughter and team advisor, Courtney Burggren, and club president Kaitlyn Phelan.

Then a high school senior, Phelan met Courtney Burggren through a family friend. After attending several meetings for the club’s setup in the fall of 2012, she was given the top position when she began her first semester as a biology major.

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The Equestrian Team’s officers from left to right: junior treasurer Portia Griffin, sophomore president Kaitlyn Phelan, sophomore vice president Mackenzie Plyler and sophomore secretary Lindsey Daniel.

Now, the team boasts 38 members and travels around the state to ride and compete with other Texas equestrians.

“The team exists because we all share a passion and want to give that opportunity to others,” Burggren said.

Taking the reins

The UNT Equestrian Team’s mission is centered on an atmosphere that does not discriminate based on members’ riding experience level.

From individual to team performances, Burggren said the highest goal is excellence, but it is also important for members to be interested in horsemanship as well as the hard work required to be on the team.

Because they all want the same goal for the team, members get along well and have formed a connection that is evident in their appearances at shows and competitions.

“The best thing about the team is that it is like a family,” Phelan said. “Everyone on our team has a strong bond and always supports each other.”

Joining the team requires that members complete a half hour of volunteer work for every lesson they ride, outfit themselves properly for practice as well as competition and show up with a positive attitude. Through these instructions, members can learn a set of abilities that they can take beyond their equine boundaries.

“Being around horses requires patience, discipline and confidence,” said Rachel Calabria, one of the team’s coaches. “These skills are something that any person can take some benefit from.”

Cracking the whip

Team coaches Calabria and Burggren teach two riding disciplines, English and Western. The most noticeable difference between the two is the tack worn by the horse. A Western saddle, which was designed for cowboys who roped cattle from horseback, is larger and more evenly weighted compared to the English saddle.

Alternatively, English riding involves the rider taking a rein in each hand unlike Western riding, in which equestrians ride with one hand on the reins and one to their side.

Because they use different tack and riding styles and engage in different events, lessons are held in separate facilities, both located in Denton County.

English practices are hosted at the Winter Oaks Stables’ C&C Sporthorses, owned by Calabria, while Western riders train at Oakdale Farm’s Golden Touch Stables, owned by Burggren.

“Students are welcome to ride and compete in both or choose one, whichever their preference is,” Burggren said.

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Equestrian Team president sophomore Kaitlyn Phelan.

In addition to competing in-state, the UNT Equestrian Team participates in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association against Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana universities.

The IHSA Zone 7, Region 2 schools alongside UNT are Texas Tech University, Rice University, North Central Texas College, University of Oklahoma, Southern Nazarene University, Louisiana State University and Tulane University.

A Western competition will be hosted by West Texas A&M University on Nov. 22 in Canyon, Texas, and an English competition will run Jan. 30 -Feb. 1 at Texas State University in San Marcos.

“As the team coach, it is my responsibility to see that the team members learn all aspects of horsemanship with a focus on hunt seat for the IHSA competitions they compete in throughout the year,” Calabria said.

Despite their penchant for winning, the team also enjoys a little bit of collaboration. Members are regularly involved in social activities that allow them to partner with another club or organization at the university.

This semester, the team has participated in a “Bring Your Own Pumpkin” event with the Archery club and is scheduled to have a “Dancing in the Tail Lights” night with the Country Western Dance club later in the year.

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The Equestrian Team’s logo.

On high horses

In the 17 years Clark has worked at UNT, he had never heard of an equestrian team in the university, let alone one of this caliber. He said that giving students the decision to join an organization as instructive as the UNT Equestrian Team is one of the purposes behind college learning and experience.

“We live in a horse country,” Clark said. “For somebody who waited 52 years and would’ve just really liked to have that opportunity when I was in college, it may have truly changed the way that I did or did not do things.”

Featured Image: Coach Courtney Burggren, left, assists freshman Katie Hillebrand during practice at Oakdale Farm in Argyle. Photo courtesy of the team’s Facebook

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