Prospective Riders

We are excited that you are interested in riding for the Stanford Equestrian Team! To aid you in your research, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions we field from prospective riders:

  • How do tryouts work?
  • Can I join the team even without much riding experience?
  • Who is eligible to join the team?
  • Does the Stanford Equestrian Team recruit?
  • Will an extensive show background help me get into Stanford and onto the team?
  • What can I do to build the skills to make me successful in collegiate riding?
  • What is the time commitment of being on the team?
  • Why does it cost money to be on the team?
  • Do I need my own equipment, or does the team provide it?
  • How many horses does the team own?
  • I have my own horse. Can I ride it in team lessons?

How do tryouts work?

The equestrian team holds tryouts at the beginning of the school year. Acceptance to the team often depends on what level of riders we need, but factors we consider are overall equitation, horsemanship, teachability and commitment to riding. We also hold tryouts at the beginning of each quarter for students returning from abroad or who request to be considered for the team.

Can I join the team even without much riding experience?

Riders of any level may try out for the equestrian team. To win intercollegiate horse shows, our riders must earn points at all riding levels, from Walk/Trot to Open. Because points earned in the Walk/Trot, Walk/Jog, and Introductory divisions (these are the lowest levels in English, western, and dressage, respectively) mean as much as points won in the highest level of competition, we are invested in finding riders who come from a wide range of riding experiences.

Who is eligible to join the team?

While the majority of our team is comprised of undergraduates, we do have a handful of graduate students on the team. Only those graduate students who competed in the IHSA for their undergraduate institutions, or eligible IDA riders, are eligible to try out for the team. Both men and women may ride and compete for the team: equestrian is one of the few sports in which men and women compete against each other as equals!

Does the Stanford Equestrian Team recruit?

Stanford Equestrian has elected to stay a club sport at this time. As such, we cannot recruit riders through the NCAA Clearinghouse. That being said, if you are a strong student with a riding and showing background, we are welcome to contact us. Not only can we put you in touch with any coaches, captains, or officers who can answer your questions, but we also appreciate knowing when strong candidates are applying.

Will an extensive show background help me get into Stanford and onto the team?

It depends. Stanford admissions are increasingly competitive and, as the team does not recruit, we have little if any say over which prospective riders are admitted. Academics, other extracurricular involvement, community service, personal background, and overall well-roundedness all figure into a strong Stanford application; for more information on these factors, please consult the Stanford admissions website. However, we are always enthusiastic to see strong riders who have been admitted into Stanford try out for the team.

What can I do to build the skills to make me successful in collegiate riding?

Learn the basics of horsemanship, build a solid foundation in your chosen discipline, and ride as many different horses as possible! The collegiate competition format is based on “catch riding” unfamiliar horses, so becoming comfortable with a range of mounts will be very helpful in any collegiate riding pursuits.

What is the time commitment of being on the team?

The time commitment to the team includes riding two to five times per week, attending team meetings, completing three hours of cross-training per week, hosting home horse shows and other events, participating in community service, and traveling to away shows. Many members also do one to three hours of barn work per week to maintain our horses and facility and reduce their horse use fees.

Why does it cost money to be on the team?

Equestrian is a club sport at Stanford, which means that the team is student-funded. We do get some funding from Club Sports and the ASSU. Team members work with The Stanford Fund every quarter to raise money for the team. These are all ways to keep our team dues as low as possible, but it still costs money to travel to shows, care for the horses, and pay our coaches.

Do I need my own equipment, or does the team provide it?

All team members ride in breeches and riding boots for English and jeans and boots for Western, (clothes can be loaned from the team’s lending library of apparel). The Hunt Seat team is sponsored by GPA Helmets and Heritage Gloves. Also, at the beginning of the year, all team members are able to work with sponsors Ariat, so that riders can procure show and schooling clothes. Thanks to sponsorship, the attire is usually available at discount rates. The team also has a large collection of show clothes that team members may borrow. Each horse is fitted to its own tack and use of private saddles is not permitted.

How many horses does the team own?

The team currently owns about 30 horses. All have been generously donated or loaned to the team.

I have my own horse. Can I ride it in team lessons?

Yes. But riders with their own horses are still expected to take lessons on the team’s horses because learning to “catch ride” ride horses other than your own is part of the challenge of IHSA.

Since riding is not a varsity sport, what organization oversees the competitions?

The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) is the governing body for Hunt Seat and Western equestrian competition, while the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) regulates dressage competition.

Why do you compete in the IHSA instead of the NCAE?

The IHSA celebrates its 50th anniversary next year and currently has over 420 teams with 10,000 athletes competing annually. The NCAA recognized the sport of equestrian as an emerging women’s sport in 1998, there are 18 Division I and Division II varsity teams, with about 14 actually competing in the NCEA (National Collegiate Equestrian Association). Being a ‘varsity’ team does not necessarily mean a team competes in the NCEA. Some varsity equestrian programs, like Brown and Cornell, compete in the IHSA.

The IHSA honors the heritage of Equestrian as a co-ed sport (Equestrian is one of the only Olympic sports where men and women can compete on an even field), while the NCEA is only open to women. Stanford has had talented male athletes on the equestrian team since our inception in 1986, including some who have won national championships for the team.

The NCAA/NCEA abides by stringent rules about coaches, regarding both their number andwhich juniors they may train in their outside business, while the IHSA allows us to work with coaches and clinicians through the state (and country). Additionally, the formats of the IHSA and NCEA are quite different with the IHSA operating like a recognized horse show, with jumping and flat classes comprised of up to 15 riders with anywhere between 13 and 30 athletes competing at each show for Stanford. The NCEA competes head-to-head, generally with 4 jumping, 4 flat, 4 reining and 4 horsemanship riders from one team, competing against the same number of riders from another school–each horse doing one round for each school, with the highest score round on each horse ‘winning’ a point for their team. While the NCEA permits a timed warm-up of a horse prior to showing it (which the IHSA does not), and the NCEA’s flat portion is run as a short-court equitation/dressage test rather than a traditional flat class. That being said, we respect all of the schools who compete in the NCEA and are pleased that hundreds of additional collegiate riders are able to participate in collegiate athletics, and we do scrimmage against some NCEA programs from time to time.

While varsity status comes with many perks like partial scholarships and access to increased academic and athletic services, Stanford’s varsity athletes are required to follow a strict set of rules sanctioned by the NCAA. This can exclude some junior rider (even if they are considered “amateur” by the USEF) who have competed in the top classes of the sport including Grand Prix, hunter derbies and any other classes awarding cash, saddles or other prizes, unless they have refused prizes or can show their costs do not exceed their winnings. The NCAA has also stringent rules about practice time and number of competitions which, given the nature of our sport, can make it difficult for ‘A’ circuit show riders to train or compete for any outside events.

For more information about the IHSA you can visit their website here. To learn more about the NCEA you can visit their website here.

What schools does the team compete against?

Stanford competes in Zone 8, Region 1 of the IHSA. Other schools in our region are Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, College of the Sequoias, Santa Clara University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, Sonoma State, and the University of Nevada at Reno.

Do you ride your own team’s horses in competitions?

Only when a competition is hosted by your school. The host school typically provides the horses, often borrowing some from within their local community. In accordance with IHSA rules, riders draw a horse out of a hat and are not allowed any time to warm up before entering the ring. This is intended to make it a level playing field for all riders, as they will all be mounted on unfamiliar horses. Judging is primarily based on the rider’s abilities to work with the horse they have drawn, as it is understood that not all the horses are the same quality or have the same training.

What is the structure of intercollegiate horse shows?

This is a very cursory primer on the often confusing world of intercollegiate showing. For full details, visit the IHSA’s website at All riders are placed in a division corresponding to their skill level, from Walk/Trot to Open, based on the IHSA rules. Throughout the regular season, riders compete in their division and earn points for finishing first through sixth place. The coaches use their discretion at determining how often riders show: they consider strategically when they want their riders to “point out” of their division into the next one. Points are also part of the process used to determine who will advance to the post-season.