By Noelle Campbell
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future
What’s a Knight without his horse?
The Equestrian Club at UCF knows that statement all too well. It brings together students of all levels, who have a passion for horses, to participate in monthly competitions that span from Savannah, Ga., to Miami, Fla.
In the National Reigning Horse Association Collegiate Riding Championships on June 27, Hunt Seat rider Morgan Sykes proved to be good on his horse. He finished second in the nation, just a half point behind the national champion.
The title is a big leap from the club’s inaugural year when it boasted only four members.
Today, there are more than 50 members participating in one non-competitive and two competitive teams within the club. The competitive side of the club is divided into two parts: Hunt Seat and Western.
Hunt Seat competes in four divisions: walking, trotting, cantering and over fences, where riders must complete a course in the correct order and positioning.
“You’re judged in Hunt Seat on the way you perform with the horse — on how you ride as a rider, how correct you are and how effective you are in your positions as a rider,” explains Josie Graham, club treasurer and Hunt Seat captain.
For fairness’ sake, the names of competing horses are drawn from a hat and assigned to a rider, who only has about five minutes with the horse before competing.
“You have this horse and you have to adapt yourself to this horse, and it really makes you into an effective rider,” Graham says.
Western team members compete in Western pleasure horsemanship and reining. Like Hunt Seat, competitors rely on a random draw for their horses.
The horses could be donated to the show for the day by volunteers or belong to the schools the at which the team competes.
The Western team is available to anyone from beginners to the open class, who are allowed to show in the reining class. Reining incorporates Western-styled patterns, spins and sliding stops into its horsemanship.
But competing isn’t the only thing on riders’ minds. Since its founding, the club has taken care of Knightro’s partner in crime, Pegasus, who circles the field at every home football game.
The non-competitive team works with the Pegasus Mascot Program, which was created in 2001 by the UCF Alma Mater Society.
The well-being of Pegasus is in the hands of squires, who spend four to five hours volunteering and watching over Pegasus during football games. They also get the mascots ready for appearances and do crowd control, says Jennifer Steele, club president and Pegasus Mascot coordinator. During the 2014-15 football season, there were 10 squires.
All members of the club also volunteer twice per semester with the club’s philanthropies.
One such organization is Heavenly Hooves, a therapeutic riding center in Kissimmee, Fla., for people with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. The volunteers assist in many areas of the organization, including helping with lessons, fundraising and cleaning stalls. Amy Lesch, manager of the volunteer services, says the club’s presence at Heavenly Hooves is beneficial because of their passion and experience with horses.
But, whether they’re riding their way to victory or volunteering their time, club members are all about the teamwork.
“At the end of the show, it doesn’t matter how each one of us did because we’re all a team,” says Cara Spirazza, club vice president and captain of the Western team. “I think the teamwork and the team effort of it is the most rewarding part, because we’re all there for each other. We’re all riding together and putting in all the hard work together.”
This story was published in a July 27, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article.