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WalkOn, Tryouts or Being Recruiting... How To Make an Equestrian Team?

One of the biggest questions about college riding is how a rider makes it on to an equestrian team? Does the program recruit it’s riders, hold a tryout or have an all inclusive participation policy? This question comes after several current college riders admitted that they felt mislead when they visited with the team during their initial college visit. Each of them conveyed a similar story of feeling that the school’s tryout was a formality when in reality there were only a handful of spots for the upwards of 75 riders trying out. While none of these students regret their academic decision of attending their chosen university, they did want riding to part of their college experience. To their credit, many of them found local riding stables and have continued to ride in college.

Some schools are able to take all students that want to participate because the team will fundraise its lesson and competition fees. Other teams are supported by an athletic or recreation department and will have a set number of members that can participate often determined by the program’s budget. If the athletic department sponsors the sport of equestrian, then coaches may recruit riders, which entails a very specific process mandated by the NCAA.

Also if you did not make the team and this is important to you consider meeting with the coach to determine what specifically you should work on to prepare for the next tryout, and find out if there is an opportunity to volunteer with the team. Volunteering shows your true interest to participate and if someone drops off the team mid-semester you will be likely to be called upon to take their spot. Another option for those who are self-starters or who participate in a discipline that is not offered is to request to add a team or program. There are some institutions that have a “team” sponsored by the athletic department and a “club” sponsored by a recreation department. Other schools that have an existing hunt seat team might be very interested if you want to add a western, dressage, saddle seat team, etc...

No matter what the method if it is import for you to be part of team here are a few questions you might want to ask during your college visits:

  • How many spots will be available the year you are planning on attending?

  • How many riders generally tryout each year?

  • At what levels will tryouts being held? If the team member is unclear ask how many team members will graduate the year prior to your arrival and what level they participate in. For example if those graduating are novice level riders then it might suggest that only novice level spots will be open.

  • You might also find out if you don’t make the team when the next opportunity to tryout will be, next semester? Next year?

  • Of if the program is for recruited athletes only will there be “walk-on” or individual tryout opportunities?

If none of the above options work out for you and you still have your heart set on riding at college ask if the school’s riding facility gives lessons in the form of physical education classes or if they would suggest a local riding facility that might be able to accommodate you when you attend their school.

The more questions you ask ahead of time the more likely you will have a positive equestrian experience while attending college.

Sloane Milstein is a former NCAA and IHSA College Coach and the author of The High School Equestrian’s Guide To College Riding. To purchase the book or seek additional guidance go to

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