Mollie Thomas started riding horses when she was 3 years old, and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
The sophomore communication studies major grew up around horses and wanted to continue riding in college. Chapman’s equestrian team allowed her to do that.
Chapman added equestrian as an official club sport last year. The team has increased from 10 riders two years ago to 16 this year.
“I think we are (being) taken a little more seriously,” Thomas said. “The biggest change is the mental part. Knowing that we are a legitimate part of Chapman Athletics feels really good.”
The equestrian season lasts from mid-October to early March. Riders travel to San Juan Capistrano, which is a 30-minute drive from Chapman, to train with their coach, Lisa Rathfelder, at least once a week. Riders are responsible for getting their practices in and for submitting paperwork to prove that they put in the required practice time.
During the season, riders usually travel for a show every two to three weeks. A show consists of six different levels of competition, including walk and trot, beginner, advanced, novice, intermediate and open. Competitors begin doing jumps at the novice level.
The team competes as part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). The team joined three years ago, and now competes against equestrian teams from other Southern California schools.
“There are club riding teams all over the country, but not a lot of them get a lot of recognition of funding,” Thomas said. “We play in the IHSA and (have) a postseason including regionals, zones, wand nationals.”
To qualify for IHSA Regionals, a rider must accumulate a certain number of points.
Riders need 36 points to qualify for each division except open. Open riders need to earn 28 points to qualify for IHSA Regionals.
IHSA Regional qualifiers then progress to IHSA Zone Championships, whose qualifiers then compete to represent their school at the IHSA National Championships.
Alexa Sikes, a ‘17 alumna who was captain of the equestrian team as a student, went to the zone eight finals at Stanford University for the open flat event last season and placed sixth.
She was also the only rider from the region to qualify in open, the highest level of competition in IHSA.
Chapman can either be invited as a team or as individuals to the postseason shows. In addition, each team is expected to bring horses to each show and horses are selected for riders randomly at the time of the event. Each rider will pull a horse’s name out of a hat and that is the one they ride for the competition.
Thomas said that this rule makes equestrian less of a “money sport,” meaning that riders do not get the upper hand just by buying a better horse.
“Part of what makes a horse good is how they’re built, trained, their bloodlines, temperament, how comfortable and adjustable (the horses are) to ride,” Thomas said.
Some shows require that the girls stay overnight in a hotel, but no transportation costs are provided by the school, so the team finds ways to carpool. To offset these costs, the dues for the equestrian team are $250 each year. In addition to the dues, players must pay for the uniforms out-of-pocket which can vary in price.
“My favorite memory of being on the team was the second-to-last show in February last season,” said sophomore business administration major Kelena Jue. “I liked being able to bond with my teammates and stay at the hotel… (it) was really special.”