Familial values propel UNT equestrian team

Familial values propel UNT equestrian team

Familial values propel UNT equestrian team
April 14
02:02 2016

Matt Payne | Features Editor

@MattePaper

Saddling onto the backs of one of five horses has become a weekly ritual for interdisciplinary studies sophomore Hannah Collins – a member of the UNT equestrian team — just like a full-body impact onto cold, pointed gravel affords no second thought from the athlete.

It’s a classic pastime in the South that’s conditioned her body and way of life, especially in overcoming a back injury sustained from exercising this past semester.

“Once you fall, you’re immediately faced with trying to figure out what’s going on around you,” Collins said. “Then you just have to force yourself to get back up.”

Collins has been horseback riding for as long as she can recall. The countless falls in trodden thickets of grass and against the hard wood of barn fences from toppling off the saddle have gone hand-in-hand having been raised by a family of horse owners.

She’s been recovering from a back sprain, but her progress has not been impeded by restraint.

Instead, the battle lies within her mind.

“The hardest part is getting past the intimidation,” Collins said. “After you get out of that constant cycle of fear, you start to feed off of each other’s energy.”

Hannah Ridings

Grace Otton, an experienced rider, lets her horse loosen his legs before practice. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

A family affair

It was a seamless transition joining the equestrian team during Collins’ first year at UNT. Practices are held once a week at Hunter Hills Equestrian Center in Argyle, but further discipline is required of the riders. This includes knowledge of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association for spontaneous quizzes, logging at least an hour of weekly exercise outside of horseback riding and volunteering to clean the stables, home to the stallions and mares.

It’s this disciplinarian approach that’s guided her past the injury that forced her to take a semester off, and UNT equestrian coach Courtney Burggren places it upon anybody who approaches the team.

“No experience is required to join the team; you could’ve never even seen a horse,” Burggren said. “As long as you have some means to acquire boots, spurs and are ready to improve.”

Volunteering to coach the equestrian team, Burggren has encountered riders both experienced and new to the trade. And there have been several times when riders have fallen off of horses, not because of their lack of experience, but because of their mood.

Burggren calls the five horses on the team – Smoke, Honey, Pippa, Joey and Willy – friends who all have their own distinct personalities and are affected by the moods of riders. Smoke is known to be “super-sensitive,” Honey as easygoing and Joey as extremely fidgety.

Hannah Collins, a rider on the team, volunteers before each practice helping clean stalls and wash horses. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Hannah Collins, a rider on the team, volunteers before each practice helping clean stalls and wash horses. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

“These giant creatures are living, breathing beings that can tell when you’re tense and the pace of your breath,” Burggren said. “I can remember several times riders came in for the day and ended up not being able to ride because of their attitudes.”

For Collins, she has likened all the horses she’s ridden to giant dogs, and even recognizes the individual personality of Smoke, her horse she’s had for more than five years.

“She’s a troubled teen, being 16-years-old,” Collins said as she kissed her mare’s snout.

Pushing boundaries

Being a newcomer is no exemption for exceeding personal limits at Hunter Hills Equestrian Center. Charging at full speed for mechanical engineer freshman Daisy Hems had to come naturally.

Hems had no experience horse-riding prior to joining the team at the start of the spring semester. She described the overwhelming sensation of being frozen upon her first time falling off the saddle and wanting to avoid immediately re-mounting.

“It’s mostly just a challenge of finding your confidence,” Hems said. “Like driving a car, you never want to go beyond 20 m.p.h. when you first start driving.”

Hems was told to get back onto her horse and lope – or ride at a speedy pace – without thinking after falling off for the first time and feeling hesitation. The only caveat would be that she wasn’t allowed to ride with her stirrups, where the boots of the rider slip in for extra grip onto their horse.

“I got on and wasn’t sure what I was doing,” Rio said. “The only thing to do was to not freak out and just trust in myself and my horse. And then it just sort of came naturally.”

The equestrian team practices every Monday, rain or shine in Argyle, Texas. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The equestrian team practices every Monday, rain or shine in Argyle, Texas. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Rio was then able to ride without toppling over and without the extra security.

She described coach Burggren as stunned after having no expectation that she’d actually manage to lope fresh out of a fall. Hems has even been able to place in IHSA shows and earn ribbons after incorporating a hands-off, detached approach to bonding with her horses.

An open-minded, peaceable demeanor has served her well because shows involve riding horses after drawing a name from a hat.

“You never know what type of horse you’re going to draw,” Hems said. “And having role models who’ve been here and who’ve known how to ride have really encouraged me.”

For Hems, seeing riders like Collins overcome a minor setback only to hop back onto horseback with the same enthusiasm and sympathy toward any horse she encounters has been a wealth of knowledge. And the habit of waking up at 5 a.m. and offhandedly knowing how to relate to horses like humans has helped her surmount even injury.

“You want to strive for that mutual connection between you, your horse and your fellow riders,” Collins said. “It makes you a better person all-around.”

Featured Image: Hannah Collins, a rider on the team, volunteers before each practice helping clean stalls and wash horses. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

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