The Wilson College Hunt Seat Team is beginning research in preparation to propose the inclusion of equestrian teams as a varsity sport at Wilson. For those who may not know, Captain Molly McElroy explained that hunt seat “is equitation based, meaning it is a judged sport on how we ride and make the horse move.” McElroy states that “By being recognized as NCAA we will get support from our athletic department and from a lot of other schools that may not know that we have two competitive equestrian teams.” Hunt Seat Coach Megan Mendenhall says, “I think it’s important to be recognized as athlets. It’s all of the equestrian teams being a part of the process.”
Both of the riding team leaders acknowledge that the big obstacle for this goal is funding. Membership fees and running costs of the programs are quite hefty, and the teams at Wilson pay money back to the equine program in order to operate. McElroy listed costs for the team as transportation, hotels, show fees, and team/club fees. While the teams typically receive funds through WCGA apportionments, the remaining needed is gained through fundraising efforts or out of team member pockets.
McElroy explained that this process could be rather difficult to go through again. Previously, equestrian sports were adopted in NCAA Division III as an “emerging sport” but due to lack of funding and growth of programs the decision was rescinded. NCAA made the decision in Oct. 2014 to drop equestrian as an emerging sport across the other divisions as well. “Emerging sport” status was created by the NCAA in 1994 to open more opportunities for women and “help better balance the male-to-female ratios for Title IX.” Today, Division III teams already compete in national championships outside of the NCAA and many schools have co-ed sports teams on campus. As far as establishing sport leaders for the entire division, those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Equestrian team sports at the collegiate level often face an uphill battle to be recognized in the NCAA, particularly to gain Championship status. When “emerging sport” status was created, the sport was also given a period of time to gain a minimum number of schools participating: 40 schools with equestrian programs at the varsity level in Divisions I and II, and 28 for Division III. Since none of these requirements have been met, equestrian will no longer be recognized as a sport in the NCAA starting with the 2017-18 academic year.
At this time, very few schools with equestrian teams receive sponsorship from their own athletic departments, and those are almost exclusively NCAA Division I and II schools. McElroy explained that because of the expenses, sometimes, “members have to drop the team because they cannot afford to pay for school and be a part of the team.” While the hunt seat team, and likely the competing dressage team as well, would be seeking financial help from the athletic department, McElroy also acknowledged that, “equine sports are expensive, but so are many other sports.”
The Hunt Seat Team leaders are just the first to initiate discussion of this process, but representatives and members from other teams will be joining in the talk as well. Equestrians make up a significant part of the Wilson student body, and being recognized as athletics alongside other sports teams is a goal for the future.