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Horseback Riding in College: Tips from Alexi Nielsen

Written by Alexi Nielsen

College Team: University of Findlay Equestrian Team (Learn More)
State: Ohio
Year in College: Sophomore
Joined Team: 2017 (Freshman Year)
Riding Discipline(s): Western // Horsemanship

About Alexi: I’m a Sophomore at the University of Findlay. I’m double majoring in Animal Science Industry and Western Equestrian Studies. I grew up showing pigs and cattle, so I love getting to work with different livestock species.

Collegiate Equestrian Interview

Q: What was your pre-college horse experience?

I had very little experience with horses prior to starting at Findlay. I was very interested in horses growing up, but for many reasons was not able to get involved with them at the time. My best friend had a horse, so hanging out with her was my only change to interact with horses. Once I decided to make Findlay my college home, I was determined to get involved with horses in some way!

Q: What were equestrian team tryouts like?

Two words: nerve wrecking! Unlike most everyone else, I had very little experience on top of a horse. I remember mounting the horse for tryouts like it was yesterday. I gestured to a friend and asked her, “How do I get this thing to go?” 🙂

Luckily, I was only trying out for the walk/trot beginner division so the coaches were easy on me! The tryout itself was fairly simple. We picked names out of a hat and rode two different horses at a walk and trot in both directions. On the second horse, we also performed a short pattern in front of a panel of judges.

Q: Describe a typical week on the team.

Alexi-Nielsen-Findlay-RibbonA typical week is different for everyone on the team! Every team member has to attend one morning practice each week. Also, everyone must attend one team workout per week.

When it comes to barn chores, it’s different for everyone. If you are only on the team and not an Equestrian major, then you clean one stall, once a week. If you are a part of the Equestrian major, then you excused from cleaning a stall because you already have to clean stalls.

For shows, everyone shows at our home shows. For our away shows, because of limited van space, the coaches select a smaller group of riders.

Q: What type of riding did you choose and why?

I ride Western… well, except for the two weeks I rode English to give it a shot!

For the team, I show in Horsemanship. It was my chance to be on the team, and quite frankly I had no idea what any of it meant at the time.

I just wanted to show!


Q: What are some challenges of balancing academic and equestrian responsibilities?

The hardest part is balancing time to study and be at the barn. Being a double major requires a lot of studying outside of class, and my responsibilities at the barn also take a lot of time. It’s difficult to find a balance between the two.

Luckily, college is all about learning time management!

Every morning when I wake up, I write a to-do list of everything that needs to get done–and I make sure to do it! Between classes is prime time to get most of my studying done, so I have evenings to be at the barn and finish the horse portions of my to-do list.

Q: What’s one “rookie mistake” you made?

I’ve learned to be more cautious of my surroundings so no people or horses get hurt. Horses spook very easily, and it’s important to be aware of everything around you. There have been plenty of situations where a horse could’ve gotten a foot stuck or hit its head, but luckily nothing happened.

Regardless, I wish I would’ve been more mindful of the risks.

Q: What have horses taught you?

Put your heart and soul into everything! Day-in and day-out, we use our horses in different practices, classes, for leisure, etc. Every time, the horses give us everything they’ve got. They go through so much every day and still  always give us their all. They know their jobs and they do them well.

Every day the horses inspire me to put more effort into my passions and pursue them wholeheartedly.

Q: If you could travel back in time to your first day on the team and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?


If I could give myself one piece of advice, I would tell myself not to be afraid–just dive in. There were so many times I was nervous about asking questions or embarrassed because I didn’t know as much as someone else.

I would tell myself not to be afraid! Everyone has to start somewhere in their equine career, and I simply started later than some. Ask questions, pay attention, stay in the saddle a little longer, and do everything you can to learn more.

Q: Why should students join a college equestrian team?

I know it’s what everyone says, but it’s true–you make the BEST of friends! By joining an equestrian team at your college, you have the opportunity to create memories that last a lifetime. I’ve made my very best friends through this team and have been given so many amazing opportunities.

I’m beyond grateful for the experience I’ve had on my IHSA team over the past year and a half, and I can’t wait to see what the next two and a half years will bring!

Q: What’s one piece of gear you can’t live without?


My 2018 IHSA National Champion belt buckle! It’s the first belt buckle I’ve ever won, so to have won it my first year showing horses was the perfect way to start my career. I wear my buckle with pride every day, and I’d feel lost without it.

Q: Who is your favorite horse to ride and why?

Addie!!! From day one, she has been my favorite. She is the sweetest horse in the barn and always takes care of her riders. She does whatever you ask, the first time you ask, as if she can read your mind. She seems to know your intention before you even ask.

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About the author


Alexi Nielsen

I’m a Sophomore at the University of Findlay. I’m double majoring in Animal Science Industry and Western Equestrian Studies. I grew up showing pigs and cattle, so I love getting to work with different livestock species.