For all the young eventers out there who are trying to decide where to go to college, the University of Kentucky might be at the top of your list. Home to one of the biggest USEA Intercollegiate Eventing programs around, some students even chose to attend the University of Kentucky purely for their eventing team.
Team President Kate McGown was one such eventer. Now a coming senior, I caught up with Kate to discuss everything she loves about the team, plus to offer some advice for freshmen who may be wondering if they should join.
Kate moved from Minnesota to Kentucky to join the UK Eventing Team. She rides her 13-year-old OTTB George for the team and competed with him in the Intercollegiate Championships at the Novice level.
Despite moving across states, she has no regrets. “I just absolutely loved being on the team, particularly because when I started as a freshman, it was during COVID. So the team gave me a way to actually make friends and see people face to face.”
First starting off as a team member, then moving to become team secretary, vice president, and now president, Kate has experienced every level of team engagement possible.
How would someone get onto the team? Are there tryouts?
So, we have no tryouts. We don’t have a cap on our membership. We usually have a new members meeting in the first week of school where we invite our new members to come and learn about the team. Usually we have food because college students love food, and some sort of trivia or some kind of fun game and a little intro about the team. It’s very chill, very relaxed.
Do you have to lease or own a horse to be on the team? Can you still be involved if you don’t own a horse?
The cool thing about our team is we do offer memberships for equestrians who don’t own horses. Social memberships are perfect for anyone who doesn’t have a horse or isn’t interested in riding competitively, but still wants to hang out with fellow eventers. But, we don’t have any team horses and we don’t lease horses out to people. The vast majority of our members have their own horse or lease a horse from a friend or family member or something.
The majority of our people are competitive members. It fluctuates slightly each semester, but anywhere from around 60 to 65 people are on our competitive member list.
Does everyone on the team board at the same barn? Take lessons with the same trainer?
We are a ginormous team with over 100 members so we do not ride at the same barn and all of our students are free to pick their own barn and their own trainer. Being based in Lexington, there are so many barns in the area that there’s something for everybody, whether you’re really looking to be competitive at the top levels of the sport or if you’re just wanting to enjoy your horse at a beautiful private farm.
How often do you get together as a team? What team bonding activities do you do?
We have an event chair and a social chair position on our executive board. So our event chair is responsible for planning any kind of horse-related event. Each semester we usually attend a jumper show which is super fun and relaxed. A lot of our team members and other Lexington horse community people come out and ride for that. That’s always fun.
We usually do a clinic once or twice a semester. So last year we did a lesson day with Liz Halliday-Sharp. That was awesome. And we also did an unmounted horse management clinic with Emma Ford last semester too. And that’s a great way for our members from lots of different barns to come together and learn and have a good time.
Our social chair is responsible for all of our other events that are not horse related. We introduced the social chair position two years ago as a way to keep our social members feeling a little bit more involved and have things to do that aren’t just riding. Thanks to our social chair, we’ve done fun nights like ax throwing and bowling and just enjoying the Lexington community.
How much does it cost to be on the team?
Because we don’t have our own team horses, we can use all of our team member dues to help our members go to Intercollegiate Championships and provide discounted merchandise and apparel for them. Our competitive member dues are around $100 and our social member dues are around $50. Almost all of that is paid back to our members that compete at Champs.
For example, this year we provided each of our competing members with a really nice custom shirt to wear for the cross country phase. In addition to team t-shirts, we bought lots of decorations for the Team Spirit award.
We really just try to use all the money we get from our dues to send it right back to our members, to help them have the best experience possible.
What is it like to compete with the team versus as an individual?
Competing at Young Riders and Champs is so much more fun than individual competitions. Champs is just absolutely unbelievable. We go all out on our decorations, everybody is all about team spirit all weekend. We really make an effort to have all of our members that possibly can go out and cheer for everyone. We usually bring a couple of people every year that don’t ride and just want to go and have fun and support the team and they’re our biggest cheerleaders. We have all of our matching equipment, all of our matching team gear, and it is just so much fun.
I forget that I’m riding myself, not just cheering on the team. Like, ‘Oh my dressage ride is in an hour, I guess I better stop cheering for the team and doing team stuff and get my horse ready.’ But really, your own ride almost feels like the smallest part of the weekend.
We got the Team Spirit Award at Intercollegiate Championships this year and we are so so proud of that achievement. We were so thrilled. We really, really worked hard for it. The Spirit Award was so exciting; it was way cooler than winning the overall team competition.
Achieve Equine sponsored the team and provided you with matching blue FLAIR strips at Intercollegiate Championships. Did you notice a difference in your horse’s performance?
I just absolutely love them. I’ve used them in almost all the shows I’ve taken George to and you can definitely tell a difference. Because they sponsored the team for champs, we were able to expose a lot of our less experienced riders to them, to see them in action and learn how to put them on properly and be able to see the benefits of something that you may not necessarily think is crucial. It was good exposure for our new eventers and had big benefits for our horses. It was a win-win all around.
What would you tell a freshman who is wondering whether or not they should join the team?
Well, obviously I would say yes. But I would also say from the perspective of someone that’s doing a science degree, that it’s definitely possible to really excel in academics and also ride horses. I think a lot of times people feel like they either have to do one or the other or not even go to college at all if you want to continue being competitive. I would say that’s definitely not the case. It is possible to do both and it’s possible to do an intense degree and still ride competitively.
The community in the UK Eventing Team is fantastic. Everybody’s on the same page. Everyone’s going through the same thing. And it’s just so much fun, and it’s definitely made my college experience that’s for sure.
This article was sponsored by Achieve Equine, purveyors of FLAIR Strips, VIP Equestrian, and Iconic Equestrian 2-in-1 saddle pads. Click here to shop all of the brands on their website.