There’s a certain anticipation that accompanies the feel of jumping a horse — grabbing the reins and bracing your body as you guide your companion over an obstacle.
There’s an entirely different type of anticipation that comes with jumping a horse as part of a national competition.
The University of Cincinnati Equestrian Team (UCET) is a nationally-competitive, semi-varsity sport with about 40 members on the team, according to Jackie Hack, UCET President and a second-year education student.
The group competes in three to four horse shows per semester, and although members are not required to compete, they are strongly encouraged to do so.
“We encourage it because it’s super fun to be able to get out there and see what everyone else is doing and learn how you can better yourself as a rider,” Hack said.
Team members also meet once a week for lessons with the coach.
All students are welcome to join the team regardless of their prior experiences with horses.
“We all love to meet new people and love to open the team up to anybody,” Hack said.
“We have a couple of girls that joined this year that have never been on a horse before, and they have grown so much already, even in these first couple of months, and it’s just a really neat thing to see.”
Hack said she began riding horses when she was a young girl because her cousin did, and Hack has been in love with everything equestrian ever since.
“Horseback riding in general is pretty unique,” she said. “It takes something special for somebody to be able to trust a 1,200-pound animal with their life.”
Students may recognize UCET members from their grilled cheese sales in Tangeman University Center.
The sales are one of many fundraisers team members participate in to raise money for their dues, which is $500 per semester for new members and $450 per semester for returning members.
The UCET hosts one horse show each year at its home barn, Saddle Lake Equestrian Center.
The team competes in the Inner Collegiate Horse Show Association. Local schools they compete against include Xavier University, Morehead State, Midway College and University of Kentucky.
Hack said the greatest part of UCET is the close bond team members have.
“I just love being able to bring everybody together doing something that we love to do,” Hack said.
Hack said UCET Coach Missy Jo Hollingsworth tells new students joining UCET that their team members will be their friends for the rest of their college experience and beyond.
The UCET president last year recently got married, and her bridal party consisted of many of the team’s members.
Hollingsworth has been the UCET team coach since 2007 — the first year the team was in the top five in the region for both the Hunt seat and Western divisions. UCET has been successful on both the regional and national level every year since then.
Hollingsworth’s work earned her the “Coach of the Year” award in 2012 from UC Club Sports, Hack said.
“I like watching the riders grow up to be great young adults,” Hollingsworth said. “I love a rider who can try out for a team and get to experience a quality of horse that they have never gotten to ride before. It’s very exciting for me to see progression like that.”
The fact that members are of all skill levels adds to the strength and diversity of the team.
Hollingsworth spoke of the fact that watching members grow and evolve during their time in the group is particularly rewarding.
“I find my bravest riders are the ones who have never ridden before and show up to try out,” Hollingsworth added. “I’m always so impressed by them.”