Claire McGovern (26C) competes at a show for the Emory club equestrian team. (Courtesy of Charlotte Loomis)

Emory University’s women-led club equestrian team has retaken the reins this year, with several members returning to regionals after spending the year rebuilding the club. A significant portion of the team’s riders graduated last year, leaving the group struggling to have enough members to compete in shows.

“Being at the competitions and being able to do that and being ready for that as a team, that was a big accomplishment for us,” said equestrian team co-President Charlotte Loomis (26B). 

There are different events within equestrian, including racing, show jumping, dressage, eventing and endurance riding. Riders are expected to do all the events atop a horse that weighs between 900 to 2,200 pounds.

Loomis said that even the “most experienced rider” will still be nervous. For an animal with a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, it is easy for riders to feel that they’re being “ran away with,” which is an apprehension that equestrian team co-President Claire McGovern (26C) often battles before jumps.

“When I’m going up to a jump I’m scared of, I try not to mess with the horse,” McGovern said. “I kind of just keep the power going and basically kind of sit there. I know everyone says ‘Horseback riders just sit there,’ but in that instance I do.”

Loomis noted the importance of riders separating what they may be feeling on the inside and what they show on the outside.

“With riding, your confidence comes from you understanding how to communicate with your horse and also what they need from you and also how to ask for things because every horse is very different,” Loomis said.

She added that an aspect of vulnerability exists solely in equestrianism.

“The horse is trusting you to get on their back and giving you a sense of responsibility and control over them,” Loomis said. “But then also you’re doing the same to them because … there’s certain things that I’m trusting you with and my safety.” 

This vulnerability required to gain trust with a horse could be the reason why women are more drawn to the sport, which is female-dominated save for the higher levels of racing and jumping, Loomis said. Emory’s club team, for example, is 92% female, according to McGovern. On a global scale, over 75% of professional riders are women.

However, only six female jockeys have ridden in the Kentucky Derby.

“It is very female dominated the entire way up, until all of a sudden, you become a professional show jumper and then there’s a bunch of guys,” Loomis said. 

Kara Yarbrough, the team’s trainer, explained that men have a physical advantage, as their natural strength can make some of the skills easier. However, she noted that “finesse” is equally important to riding since the sport is also an “art.” 

Yarbrough, who is also a professional rider, said the best thing an equestrian can do for their horse is consider how the animal reacts during rides. She also said she still learns something new every time she gets on a horse.

“Even though I’m a trainer and I’ve ridden for forever, I’m still learning a ton,” Yarbrough said. “They always have something to teach you.”

In the future, Loomis and McGovern hope more people are interested in joining the team, which accepts all skill levels.

“We take everyone as long as they’re willing to put some effort in and willing to learn something new,” Loomis said.

McGovern added that the club is a good way to spend time with friends and the animals she’s grown up around.

“At the end of the day, it’s just people who like to ride,” Loomis said. “I’m really excited about getting the opportunity to do that at college.”

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Sasha Melamud (she/her, 27C) is from Clearwater, Florida, planning on majoring in creative writing and spanish. In her free time, Melamud enjoys being out in the fresh air, fitness, and hanging out with friends.