By Hannah Sutton C/O 2019
I began my collegiate career at St. Andrews in 2015. Right off the bat I knew I wanted to try out for the IHSA and Horse Show Hunter Seat team. I put my name down for try outs and waited in anticipation for the day I could make a long-time dream come true.
Try outs came around and four years later I still remember the ride I had. I rode Eddie, a cute and silly lesson horse who packed me around while I smiled from ear to ear with excitement. Even though one of our canter transitions became a bit playful, I still remember letting out the biggest laugh right in front of the coaches. After a few days, the team list came out and I made the varsity IHSA team in the Walk/Trot/Canter division. I couldn’t have been more excited to start my journey as a hunter seat team member.
Through the years I competed quite a bit with the hunter seat team. I took hunter seat lessons both at the school and off campus on my own horse and focused greatly on being the best hunter rider I could be. I also competed with the show team on the local NCHJA circuit with some of the St. Andrews lesson horses. It never occurred to me at all that there was a great big world out there filled with many other disciplines of riding.
Summer Job, New Discipline…
After my sophomore year, I was pressed to find a summer job in my home town. Of course, I wanted to work with horses, so I began advertising myself to multiple barns in the area. After a bit of searching, I landed a job working at a small upper-level show barn just south of Charlotte. However, it wasn’t a hunter or jumper barn like one would assume I’d work at. It was a dressage barn.
A New Team
I didn’t know anything about dressage at the time other than it was very beautiful to watch. My heart was set on jumping and working for riders that also felt the same way, but I took the job nonetheless. From that day forth I cannot even begin to express how much it changed my life. Over the next two summers, I worked for that barn, immersing myself little by little into the world of competitive dressage. I even did my summer internship there, standing in as interim barn manager and gaining experience as a groom. I have committed to them as a full-time employee after graduation.
Here I was, a complete hunter princess slowly developing my way into a dressage queen without even knowing. By the time senior year rolled around, I knew I wanted to take the same leap I had done my freshman year at St. Andrews…and I tried out for the dressage team.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous trying out for a new team my senior year, but the coaching staff on both sides were super accepting and made the transition a breeze. Throughout my senior year, I have competed on both teams. It goes without saying that it has been such an incredibly fun and exciting time.
Balancing Two Teams
Balancing both the hunter seat and dressage teams has proven to be challenging, but I cannot stress enough how much it has shaped me as a rider. Over the last few months I have been able to truly dive into the mechanics of my riding and it has given me more perspective on the sport as a whole. I have learned the importance of quality flat work, and yes, though it may sound much like a cliché, jumping is really nothing but dressage with raised poles scattered throughout.
The concepts I learn in the dressage lessons prepare me to influence the hunter seat horses, and the confidence I gain on the hunter seat horses transfers into my dressage lessons. Though both disciplines are different, there are quite a few similarities that make riding both of them super cohesive and insanely interesting.
Just Do It!
My parting words to you are this: if you are considering branching out and trying a new discipline…DO IT! You will have no regrets trying something new. Like I said before, I cannot express how much riding two disciplines really forces you to become a better rider. Being a well-rounded equestrian is also something to be super proud of.
Many of my friends on the teams are also riding multiple disciplines as well and all of them have nothing but positive things to say. It can be a lot of work and it takes a big commitment, but it is completely manageable and worth it! If you want to branch out and try something you have never done before, St. Andrews is definitely the place to do it. The environment is so supportive and you will for sure make friendships and learn things that will last you a lifetime.