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At MIT, horseback riding is a sport that has vacillated between being active and successful one year, and being completely nonexistent the next. This year, Anna S. Jaffe ’09, President and Show Captain, and her team members, have undertaken the task of restarting the team. The group has again started getting together, training and competing at horse shows with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA).

The group consists of those who just ride occasionally for recreation, as well as those who do so at a more serious level. While some riders have been training for years, there are also those who are complete novices. The members delve into various categories of riding such as Dressage, Show Jumping and Eventing.

The team takes part in about six competitions in the fall season and three in the spring with the IHSA. Currently halfway through the fall season, they have had several successes this year. Most recently, at the Endicott College Horse Show, the team took seventh place despite competing with only four members against teams of seven and won several ribbons at the individual level as well.

The team’s weekly lessons are usually held in the evenings or on weekends at October Farms. A typical training session usually starts off with the team taking a zip-car to the farms, approximately a 40 minute drive. The lessons usually last for about an hour, and after that the team hangs around for a while with the horses before heading back to campus.

All riders must take proper safety measures. Apart from regular safety gear, the instructors make sure that a person is not assigned tasks such as jumping obstacles unless he or she is skilled enough to do so.

The members of the group have several different motivations for joining the team. For instance, Melinda K. Dooley ’09, a rider who joined the team this year, aspires to attend veterinary school, and thus started riding order to get more experience in interacting with large animals.

For many of the riders, the experience has had value beyond that of a sporting activity. According to Jaffe, riding has helped her in her personal development. She said that a lot in the sport depends on the temperament of the animal and horses, similar to dogs, have a tendency to aim to please. The animals appreciate positive reactions, but are very sensitive to negative feedback.

Working with horses has helped improve Jaffe’s people skills, as it has made her more aware of her responses. Similarly for Dooley, equestrianism helped her be conscious of the way she carried herself, on a horse, and thus generally in everyday life. Furthermore, horses have a naturally calming effect. A few riders in the team had anxiety issues, and they felt that horse riding served as better stress relief than psychiatric therapy.

As of now, the team is trying to recruit new members. It is open to all levels of players from complete novices to experienced riders. Owning a horse is not required to join the team; horses are provided at training sessions. Even at most IHSA events, horses are randomly assigned to participants; this also tests the riders’ ability to connect with animals they aren’t familiar with. The group hopes to gain as many more members as possible, and plans to outline their goals and areas of focus depending on the preferences of team members.

The team is also seeking sponsors, both within MIT and from outside, including in alumni networks. Currently, the riders have to fund everything themselves, from lessons to transportation costs. Most of them have managed the cost by doing things such as splitting the costs for lessons and having a work-study relationship at the farms. Although all of the riders feel that the experience is completely worth the price, they hope having more members will help their cause when searching for funds as well. The team is awaiting a recognition as an official club sport from the Student Activities Office.

Apart from training and competing in shows, the group holds many fun events too, such as going cross-country on their horses, chasing cattle together, and visiting the Florida winter equestrian festival. For the team members, the team is a part of their life at MIT. The training sessions, shows, and recreational activities all serve as a great way to get away from the fast pace of life at MIT. Those interested in horses or considering joining the MIT Equestrian Team should visit http://web.mit.edu/equestrian/www/ or contact Anna Jaffe (ajaffe@mit.edu) for more information.