Female equestrian team grows together as a family

Griffin Sullivan
Isabella Petronka, ‘22, rides in competition gear. Petronka is one of many underclassmen on this year’s team.

What started out as a large membership boost has already evolved into a tight-knit family for the Allegheny College Equestrian Team. While the team is no stranger to new faces, this season is slightly different from those in years past, according to the team.

According to team captain Griffin Sullivan, ’19, membership is usually distributed evenly throughout all four class years. This year, however, has seen a larger number of first-years and sophomores. There are currently two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and four first-year students on the team.

Not only is the team younger this year than in past years, it is also an all-female team. Sullivan said the team has been comprised of mostly females with a few males in the past, but this year the team is an all female group.

“It is interesting,” Sullivan said. “Riding is the only sport where boys and girls compete equally.”

Just as the team is made up of members of varying ages and class years, the team is made up of riders who bring various levels of experience.

“We have everything from ‘you’ve never ridden a horse before’ to ‘you’ve been riding a horse for your whole life,’ ” Sullivan said.

Sullivan has high hopes for the team in the future as the new members gain experience.

“This year, since we are a new team, I would say we are a little less competitive just because it’s more of a learning curve,” Sullivan said. “But I would say within the next two years we’ll be right back up at the top competing with the best of ’em.”

Griffin Sullivan
Griffin Sullivan, ‘19, rides over a jump during competition.

Ashlee Rowles, ’19 had similar thoughts about the group.

“Having a lot of new people is very good for our team,” Rowles said. “When all of our seniors graduate, we have a lot of empty spots in our team. So getting new people and having them experience the team and shows with us gives us new opportunities to achieve more points in our shows. It’s really good for us and healthy for us to have new members.”

Rowles has been a member of the team for three years and has been riding for most of her life.  She had been riding English for four years when she first came to Allegheny.

Club Treasurer Elisabeth Miller, ’21, has assumed a leadership role in order to support the new members.

“Even though I’ve only been on the team for a year, the way everything has been set up I’ve had to take on a leadership role, seeing as I’m the treasurer this year and it requires a lot of hands on with the team,” Miller said.

With a year of experience riding at Allegheny and going into her second, Miller hastaken on her first leadership position by becoming the treasurer for this season. She also helps the new members understand how college equestrian works.

“Even though I’m younger, a lot of our freshmen don’t know some of the things about the shows like the type of gear that we need, how to do your hair for helmets,” Miller said. “So even being younger, I feel like I’ve taken on a lot of leadership with the team.”

All three girls agreed on how much the team feels like a family, even with only half of a semester of being together.

“We’re not even a semester in and we’re all pretty close with each other,” Rowles said.

The majority of the bonding happens during shows — when the team spends all day and sometimes all weekend together. The team competes at six shows in the fall and two shows in the spring.  Shows typically start around 6 a.m. and end around 4 p.m. The team will spend the night at a hotel depending on how far away the show is from campus.

After arriving at the show, the horses are “schooled,” or warmed up, and the jumpers participate in a course walk so they can familiarize themselves with the layout of the course while the captains meet to lay out expectations for the day. The competition begins with three levels of jumping, then “flatting,” which is when the horses are judged on position and stance.

“We boost each other up and have a lot of support,” Rowles said. “My favorite part of the team isn’t necessarily riding, it’s more of the environment around me. Riding is just a perk of that.”

Miller echoed Rowles’s feelings on the team’s tight-knit relationship.

“We’re definitely a little travel family,” Miller said. “When we travel, we all group together and go into each other’s hotel rooms, hang out, and watch movies together.”

The team has bonded in such a short time, and many members feel like they have become more than a team; they have become a family. The team aspires to keep growing each year, both in their divisions and in their hearts. 

“That would be the best thing I could wish for the team,” Miller said. “A full team every year.”