college riding: safety

I recently moved across the country for college, and since I couldn’t bring my horse with me, I decided to try riding with my college’s IHSA team. I attended my first lesson earlier in the week and have very mixed feelings about the experience and am trying to gain insight into weather or not I think the situation is safe.

First, the barn itself is very run down, and all of the tack used was extremely dirty and did not appear well cared for. The college is not known for its riding program so the team is run out of a private facility, which does not seem to be very well maintained. Many of the horses also had large areas of scratches or another fungus on their hind legs. The trainer also has allowed several wild skunks to inhabit the barn because they find them cute. This struck me as a bit of a health hazard, especially since skunks can carry EPM.

Second, our lesson occurred at a very late time which meant that it was already practically dark outside. Although the barn has an indoor arena, it is very small and the trainer opted not to use it. We rode outside, and even jumped several fences, despite the fact that it was so dark I could not see the horses on the other side of the arena (maybe 80 feet).

Thirdly, The trainer had us all do very minimal flatwork, and then immediately requested that I jump two jumps on the diagonal there were at least three foot and three foot three. I had told her that I was experienced in the big equitation but was still surprised she didn’t want to verify my skill level over smaller jumps to begin with. It seemed to me that this decision was, on her part, reckless, as she had no previous knowledge of my riding ability other than the few sentences I had told her.

I want to keep an open mind because I know college riding is a different experience, but my inner voice is telling me that this specific program may not be for me. Do you think that I might just need to adjust my expectations and stick it out, or does the situation seem bad enough that I should find another way to ride through college?

Every IHSA program is different.

Some are well run school based programs, some are well run privately coached programs, some are well run with multiple coaches.

Other programs are poorly run whether it’s school or private there are PLENTY of programs that might make you cringe.

The part of this that truly terrified me was that she just automatically set the jumps to 3 foot for you, not to say you aren’t capable. People lie; they especially lie in IHSA. I’ve had dozens of riders tell me they jump 3 foot or the big eq and they couldn’t make it over a single crossrail. It’s not to say that you’re lying obviously, but that is a safety precaution.

If it were me I would probably find a different situation, but everyone has their own comfort level. You don’t seem very comfortable me and that might be an intuition to follow.

I know it sucks because IHSA can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be awful. I was lucky but had a bunch of friends that cut and run immediately, or wished they had.

Have to talked to the other folks on the team? Maybe there’s more to this place than meets the eye… Or maybe not. The fact that the trainer asked you to jump the bigger fences doesn’t worry me nealy as much as the fact that it sounds like the horses weren’t properly warmed up for that.

I’d try to feel out the older team members before you decide to ditch the whole thing, but I’ll admit that this doesn’t seem an auspicious start.

I have not been impressed with the programs I have seen. Four of my riders rode IHSA for a couple of years and I felt that their riding suffered greatly. This was at three different schools, all in the same time frame.

Jumping in the dark is stupid IMHO.

I’m not an expert on IHSA programs, however, I have heard about extremely unqualified coaches and safety issues at some programs. Ultimately, even though the school should be taking some responsibility for running a safe program with a competent instructor, you still don’t want to get hurt! What you describe is patently unsafe: failing to evaluate a rider’s skill level and having a student jump in unsafe conditions (not enough light). The other issues are signs of a poorly managed barn.

I think it must be incredibly disappointing to have moved a far distance to go to a school expecting to have a nice IHSA riding experience and run into this! My advice: First watch out for your own safety and use good judgement no matter what this “trainer” instructs you to do. Second, consider a complaint to the school’s administration and have your parents complain.

I went to college at a school that had a team but never participated due to the low quality of the horses and instruction–it would have been a total waste of time. I rode with an outside trainer at an outside barn during school. I was sad to miss out on the team experience but I made friends at the other barn.

Again… every program is different. At most schools, the tack, the horses, and the facility aren’t stellar. Horses are dirty, footing is bad, rings are… sometimes not even rings, judging is nonsensical, courses are illogical, questionable levels of training abound in both human and horse. IHSA is for the friends :slight_smile:

IHSA isn’t the pristine, detail oriented discipline that the bigeq is. What you describe doesn’t sound horrible to me. Unless you think your tack is so poorly cared for it’s going to snap, don’t let your bigeq mind worry too much about the cleanliness. The horses are school horses, so while they’re not nice, they are normally safe. Jumps are small, courses are simple, and speeds are slow. You’re not doing the 1.50s in a questionable saddle :lol:

The 3’ doesn’t bother me. I’m surprised you were on a horse that could clear 3’3" :wink: If you’re in an area where open is actually 3’3", you looked the part and flatted well… why not put them up? 3’ isn’t big. I have had “normal” lessons in the darkish because we hated our indoor ring, not the end of the world to me.

ETA: I’m not saying there is absolutely no safety issue, I’m saying there is a bit of a culture shock coming from the bigeq. If you do see a legitimate safety issue, bring it up to the coach. If you have serious concerns she isn’t addressing, know that because the school/team hired an outside facility as their coach, they can fire them and move to another facility.

Please don’t flame me people, but I wish there were a Division 3 equestrian program that was not IHSA. I don’t get why riding in college is not comparable to playing any other Division 3 sport. Stay safe OP, it doesn’t sound like this barn or trainer is up to snuf.

I had almost an identical situation my freshman year of college. Coach changed over the summer to a local “trainer” with a backyard program. Woman was clueless, horses were unsafe, unfit, and unsound. In my case, reporting the lack of safety and professionalism to my school’s athletic department got their attention and we changed to an amazing coach the next year. My parents were also heavily involved due to the safety concerns. I was also the school’s only open rider, so that probably got their attention too. Talk to the girls in your lesson and see how they felt. Ask team members how long they’ve been with this coach and their opinions. See if there are any better training options near school, maybe take a lesson and see if anyone is interested in coaching the team. Rather than just complaining, you’ll be providing an alternative.

I would say go find another option to ride. If you can bring the team with you, good. If you can’t, just go ride somewhere safe.

Some IHSA teams are school sponsored, and the coaches are paid by the school, the school selects or owns the stable and horses. Sometimes the athletic directors are clueless as to what is actually being supplied if it is not a school stable.

In other schools the team is a club. The team members find a coach,good bad or awful, and they also find a stable, again good bad or awful where horses and tack are supplied.

I can think of several schools where the stabling is great, the coaches wonderful and the teams very successful. I can think of others that fall into the opposite category.

OP, you sound educated enough to make your own decision, as to which category the team at your school falls into. It sounds like the less than wonderful set-up. Act accordingly.

Don’t keep such an open mind that your standards fall out.

In college I had two separate experiences. The first was great. The college had built a lovely and surely expensive large, brand new, high end facility complete with large indoor. Many horses were donated and because it was a new program some were green, some were been there done that, some were quirky. Instruction was pretty good considering, and despite what you may have competed in prior to college, try outs were held at the beginning of each year and you were placed in appropriate sections based on riding ability and equitation.

My second experience was when I transferred out of the fancy (and expensive) art school to go to a state school. It was a club and the facility and trainer level were simply not to my standard. I did not participate.

I have a feeling that when these club situations get set up the athletics department has no idea what qualifies these trainers. They have a business, they provide instruction/equipment/horses and promise to teach students. Sounds great. I’d suggest you be an advocate for the team and at least communicate what is going on to the school, they may not have an idea.

I have a feeling that when these club situations get set up the athletics department has no idea what qualifies these trainers. They have a business, they provide instruction/equipment/horses and promise to teach students. Sounds great. I’d suggest you be an advocate for the team and at least communicate what is going on to the school, they may not have an idea.[/QUOTE]

At many schools (my alma mater included) the athletics department has no jurisdiction over the IHSA team as a club sport. Mine was run out of the Club Sports office, which gives no guidelines for who could be a coach. It’s bitten the team in the butt more than once. Luckily this year we have strong student leadership that’s dedicated to making the team more legit, and I’m hoping to help out as a faculty advisor/alum rider so there’s some continuity of leadership.

One thing that’s a possibility: at my school, we have an official barn, but if it’s not to your taste you’re welcome to lesson elsewhere. I personally think the trainer at the official barn is a lovely woman, but I prefer the trainer and horses at my current barn. So this year I’ll continue my training at my barn and just attend the mandatory pre-show lessons at the official barn. You might see if that’s an option where you are.

IHSA is great for getting saddle time and meeting like-minded friends in college. But it’s not for perfectionists. If you can find a way to make it safe, you can have a ton of fun with it, but you have to be wary.

Some IHSA programs are good, some are terrible, and many are in between. Give it a month and see where things go.

As an aside, one of the good things about a private barn program is that you can change it. My team rode out of a local H/J barn that had many inappropriate lesson horses during my first year on the team. It had advantages since everyone was thrilled at the nice horses they got to ride at shows and did well - but it wasn’t a great learning environment.

I led the charge to change barns my first spring, and successfully got us a contract with a much nicer place for the next 5 years. It can be done.

If you don’t like it, don’t go back. Simple. You already know some things are not right so trust your gut. Did you check out the program while visiting the college initially? If you didn’t pick this college for its riding team, then just either don’t ride while you are there or find a private location where you feel more comfortable.

I’m a little annoyed you’d want to rant about it on-line but I’m probably only sensitive because I spent my first two years riding at a small college where ISHA riding was a club sport and we didn’t have a lot of funds. Plus, we were located in an area that didn’t have many farms or competent trainers. We practiced on team penning horses loaned to us by a local cowboy. You can imagine how much real practice our novice-open o/f riders got. Was it fun? Absolutely! Did my riding suffer? Yeah, probably but since I didn’t go to college just to ride, being able to get on and do something equine related was better than nothing, IMO.

Club status isn’t always associated with sub-standard (or less optimal) programs. My college equestrian team was a club, so not heavily university subsidized, yet the dues were cheap, the facility great (I have never again seen such a nice string of school horses), and the coach had and still has an excellent reputation (and is affiliated with some very BNTs). We also rode as much as we wanted–some weeks I took 3-4 lessons. So, OP it’s unfortunate that these programs are so hit-or-miss, especially if the school is a fit otherwise (and you aren’t thinking of transferring).

Some programs are quite dangerous … as someone else said ISHA is about the friendships not the riding. It was a program designed to give non riders a chance to get a taste of riding and showing horses , not a bad idea, but there are no qualifications really for becoming a coach or for the horses that are used … For most schools, the coaches are volunteers and open to anyone who will agree to go to shows for little or no money . If it is not fun for you , don’t do it , it’s the simple. PS: The Skunks in the barn alone woudl have me running the other way . FAST… LOL