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Horseback Riding in College: Tips from Jordan Gates

jordan gates
Written by Jordan Gates

College Team: South Dakota State University (Learn More)
State: South Dakota
Year in College: Junior
Joined Team: Freshman Year
Riding Discipline(s): Horsemanship and Reining

About Jordan: I am from Wooster, Ohio and am currently a junior at South Dakota State University. I am an Aviation major working on my instrument rating and will go on to get my commercial license this summer. My end goals are to work for an airline company or go into aviation business and management. During the summers, I enjoy traveling, hanging out with friends and family, and showing horses.

Collegiate Equestrian Interview

Q: What was your pre-college horse experience?

Prior to college, I competed nationally in the Quarter Horse circuit. I traveled around the country showing the all-around events. My horse was always with a trainer, so when I wasn’t at school, I was at the barn riding and practicing for the next show.

I have shown ever since I was 6 years old and began in the open shows around my town. As I got older, I wanted more of a challenge and wanted to go to bigger shows. Thanks to the support of my parents, I did just that.

Traveling to different states, showing and meeting new people, really helped me grow as a rider. At times, it was not easy. But, the challenges kept me going. My experience competing at the national level immensely helped me compete at the level that I do in college.

Q: What were equestrian team tryouts like?

I was lucky enough to be recruited to be on the team, so I did not have to do tryouts. In general though, our coach gives the girls a pattern to perform. They have a certain amount of time to get to know the horse and prepare the pattern.

After tryouts, it takes about a week for the coaches to talk and come up with a final roster. Whether you are recruited or try out, it is a great honor to be a NCAA athlete.

Q: Describe a typical week on the team.

college-equestrian-jordan-gates-2Our weeks can be pretty busy, depending on if it’s a “meet week” or not (i.e. show week). A typical week consists of three to four practices according to how busy your class schedule is and whether you do one or two disciplines.

Since I do reining and horsemanship, I have five practices per week (including Saturdays). Each practice is about an hour long. Each Monday, we also have a team meeting where we discuss important information for the upcoming week.

Along with practices and meetings, we are required to do barn chores once a week. You are allowed to pick what day you do them and what works best with your schedule. Chores consist of mucking stalls, cleaning buckets, cleaning the tack rooms, and/or dusting.

Keeping up on your homework and being proactive is very important when also being on a team. All freshman are required to complete four hours of study tables per week.

If it is a meet week, life gets even busier because we’re preparing at home or traveling elsewhere for shows.

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

I compete in horsemanship and reining. Before I came to college, I had never ridden a real reining horse or showed in reining. It was an entirely new discipline that I had to learn. It was challenging, at times, but was very rewarding in the end.

I have always loved horsemanship, so I was honored  to be able to carry on this passion in college.

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

There are many challenges of balancing academic and equestrian responsibilities. Being an aviation major, I have a much more complex academic curriculum than many other students.

School always comes first and at times this means rescheduling practices and working with coaches.

Communication is essential with your coaches and professors. You can’t expect them to know what’s going on, so being detailed and proactive is key.

Homework, quizzes, and tests all take hours of studying to achieve good grades. It’s important to plan out your day to balance hanging out with friends and getting your assignments done.

Different things can pop up at any time, so staying on top of team functions and assignments will make your life much easier. One thing that I did my freshman year (and still do to this day) is write everything down in my planner.

My planner is my lifeline, it has all my assignment for the semesters, practices, and classes marked in it.

This helps me stay organized and ahead of what’s coming next. Anyone can learn to balance school and riding as long as you have the right mindset and find tricks that work for you.

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

Each horse at the barn has a certain bridle that they use. There is a sheet outside of the tack room that has the horses’ names and types of bridle. Before one practice, I was late because one of my classes ran long. I grabbed the wrong bridle.

It may not seem like a big deal, but some horses perform better in certain bridles than others. I could have avoided this by taking that extra second to double-check and make sure I had the proper gear.

Taking your time to ensure everything is as should be is way more important than rushing to be at practice on time.

Q: What have horses taught you?

college-equestrian-jordan-gates-3Horses have taught me to love good and bad moments. Many riders want to avoid the bad times. But, in the end, those experiences are the ones that teach you the most and make you stronger. Plus, horses will always be there for you, even when you’re having a bad day.

Learning to trust, care for, and put endless hours into these animals can go hand-in-hand with better personal relationships.

Forgiving and forgetting is another lesson horses have taught me. There will be days when you win the biggest awards and days that you don’t even place. Learning to forgive and forget (yourself and your horse) will get you much further in life.

I have not had the easiest road when it comes to my showing career, having lost two of my most important horses and then having to show green ones. As I look back now, though, I would not have wanted it any other way. Not having the most well trained horses in the show pen made me have to adapt to different situations in the blink of an eye.

Horses will teach you way more than how to ride–like how to truly love and make relationships last a lifetime.

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?

One piece of advice I would give myself is take every moment in because it will fly by. Freshman year, you are trying to get used to everything, figure out how things work, and make friends.

Once you have figured all this out it, college life seems to go by so fast! Your college career includes countless memories and moments you will never get back.

The good times, and even the bad times, will seem effortless once you graduate.

Being a junior, I can’t believe that I only have one year left. I look back and already wish I would have done so many more things that I never did.

Putting yourself out there is the most important thing. You will be with your teammates for the next four years, so getting to know them inside and outside of the team is essential. I have made so many amazing memories being on this team.

Q: Why should students join a college equestrian team?

Being on a college equestrian team is much more than riding horses and competing. Being on a team has taught me many life lessons that never thought I would learn.

Learning to juggle a busy school schedule along with team functions can be difficult and stressful. This makes your organization and time management skills stronger though.

You also get a built-in family. Coming to a school that is 15 hours away from home and not knowing anyone was kind of nerve-wracking. Knowing that I had a group of girls that I would be spending a lot of time with made it easier.

Traveling to different teams facilities and only having four minutes to get to know a horse also makes you learn that you have to adapt to any situation and make the most out of it.

Not everything is within your control when it comes to team activities. You need to stay flexible and understanding. 

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

Want to give this trick a try? Pick up some electrical tape on Amazon!

Electrical tape! Every time I show, I tape my boots on. I have done this ever since I started showing.

If I don’t have electrical tape handy, I use hair ties and put them around my boots as tightly as I can.

It’s weird because during practice I don’t need to tape my boots–only when I show. Having my boot tape makes me feel like everything is secure, and there’s a smooth line from my shoulders to my legs.

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About the author


I am from Wooster, Ohio and am currently a junior at South Dakota State University. I am an Aviation major working on my instrument rating and will go on to get my commercial license this summer. My end goals are to work for an airline company or go into aviation business and management. During the summers, I enjoy traveling, hanging out with friends and family, and showing horses.