How to get back in the saddle at university

  • If you were forced to sell your horse and give up riding before university, there are plenty of ways to get back involved — even if you don’t have your own horse.

    More than 70 universities across the UK have equestrian clubs and field teams who contest British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) competitions.

    How does it work?

    The format of these competitions, or “matches”, as they are referred to, is unique. Everyone rides borrowed horses and the rules allow less than 10min for riders to familiarise themselves with their mounts. Each horse is ridden by all four team members.

    Matches at league level comprise a basic dressage test and a round of showjumping at around 85-90cm. From here, teams and individuals can progress to regional matches and on to the British Universities Championships.

    World University Championships are held every two years, where the standard in the final stages can be up to prix st georges (PSG) level dressage and 1.40m showjumping.

    Former four-star eventer Clare Chamberlayne was involved in running the riding club at Royal Holloway, University of London.

    “The BUCS competition was brilliant because it allowed people who would never normally have had the opportunity to compete to ride for their university,” she said.

    “We had a real mix on our teams — from advanced eventers to people who had only taken up riding in their first year at university.

    “Sometimes, the results at league and regional level would throw up surprises — it wasn’t necessarily those with the most competitive experience who won.

    “At the championships, though, because the requirements are so much more demanding, the cream tends to rise to the top.”

    How about the social side?

    But it’s not all aboutbeing competitive.

    According to Kat Rattray, president of the 155-strong University of Edinburgh riding club, the emphasis is as much on the training and the social side of riding.

    “At Edinburgh, as well as fielding four BUCS teams, we organise five different levels of lessons, from beginners through to advanced,” she says.

    “People can sign up whenever they like and there is no obligation to ride every week.”

    As a rule, lessons are heavily subsidised and university riders can expect to pay anywhere between £10-25, which usually includes transport to and from the stables.

    If you have your own transport, or can get to a local competition yard, there are even more opportunities to stay involved with riding through university.

    “Yards often contact our riding club and ask if we know of anyone who wants to help exercise, share some riding, or help out at weekends,” says Kat. “My advice is to keep looking on your club’s website, noticeboard and on social media sites.”

    Find out more

    British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), visit: www.bucs.org.uk
    Schools and Universities Polo Association (SUPA), visit: www.supa.org.uk
    Student Equestrian, visit: www.studentequestrian.co.uk

    Take a look at these 16 things we miss about being young and horsey

    This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (27 February 2014)

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