October 10, 2008

Equestrian team hosts competition this weekend

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- More than 100 riders from 16 universities will converge on Carbondale this weekend to take part in a two-day Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competition hosted by the Southern Illinois University Carbondale equestrian team.

Riders at all levels of expertise will put borrowed horses through their paces from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, and Sunday, Oct. 12, at Le Cheval de Boskydell, a riding academy and stable at 83 Furlong Lane, just off Boskydell Road south of campus.

“It’s unique -- you don’t have to have a horse, you don’t have to have a lot of experience and you can still compete,” said Bradley L. Mertes, a senior from Bloomington and vice president of SIUC’s equestrian team.

Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, riders will compete in riding events; Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning will feature jumping. Watchers are welcome throughout.

“That’s exactly what we want, ”Bradley said. “We’re putting this on for people to check out and see what we do. There’s not a lot of seating, though, so you should bring a chair or a blanket.”

To cut down on expenses, allow more students to participate and better showcase the riders’ skills, contestants in association events ride horses provided by the host school.

“They’ve never seen these horses before -- they just draw names out of a hat, get on, and it’s showtime!” Mertes said.

Sufficient points earned in local shows such as this one allow riders to compete in one of the 29 regional events. From there, additional points can move contestants on to one of nine zone events. The top two from each zone go on to nationals. Last year, Allison L. Cornman, then a junior, qualified for the national championship show.

The University’s equestrian team has come a long way in the last three years, with membership jumping from 10 or 20 to around 50, Mertes said. In addition to “promoting the heck out of it,” Mertes credits the gains to the encouragement and support the members offer each other.

“I was a pilot -- I came here for aviation,” Mertes said.

“I never touched a horse before I came to college. Now I’m in equine science, and I’m just a few points away from qualifying for nationals.”