Equestrian team saddles up

A member of the Oswego State equestrian team performs at the Syracuse Western Show on Saturday. (Photo provided by Equestrian Team)
A member of the Oswego State equestrian team performs at the Syracuse Western Show on Saturday. (Photo provided by Equestrian Team)

For the fourth consecutive season, the Oswego State club equestrian team has won the regional championship for the western equitation, claiming 54 blue ribbons, or first-place finishes, on Saturday in Cazenovia.

Oswego State competes in two different types of shows: western and English. Western shows require the riders to wear more stereotypical cowboy-attire and have a different format than English shows have.

There are six classes in western shows (most competitive to least competitive): open reining, open, advanced, novice, intermediate and beginner. Teams select an individual “point-rider,” who competes for the blue ribbon in their respective class, and five to seven additional individual riders who ride on their own behalf, for their own individual scores. Individual riders can get promoted to higher classes over the course of the season.

The team has had a very successful season thus far this year, piling up a substantial amount of blue ribbons in its western shows. Head coaches Jill and Dan Bergstresser acknowledge that the accomplishments the team has had during the entire season played a huge part in Saturday’s successes.

“We went into this past weekend leading the region by a significant amount of points, so this weekend wasn’t quite as high stress as some others have been,” Jill said. “All the students needed to do was ride their best and maintain the lead. They were able to do that, therefore securing the final win for the season title.”

The club team boasts 70 members. To support itself, the team spends most of the fall semester fundraising and volunteering their services for their sponsor, the New York State Fairgrounds. Junior Amy Lipsky says the fall semester is great for allowing the team to get to know all of its members and partake in activities like “breaking down portable stalls” at the fairgrounds.

“We are all just a bunch of weird people, so we all get along great,” Lipsky said. “The weirder you are [with people] the closer you are with people.”

The players respond well to their coaches.

“They are weird too,” Lipsky said.

Both Jill and Dan Bergstresser speak very highly of their team, as they have embraced a lot of roster changeover in recent years.

“As far as the team strengths, it’s a very fresh team all-in-all,” Jill said. “There are many new members, as the last two years have been huge graduation years. As a fresh team, the kids are building great new friendships and learning how to work together, which goes hand in hand with a strong team. They are each working individually and as a team on their weaknesses and they pull each other along when need be, which has been great.”

According to Kirby, Oswego State has a much larger western team than English team. In fact, Oswego State is actually considered one of the largest western teams in the region, one of the reasons why it is so competitive. Members of the western team really enjoy the format of the western shows.

“Western shows are pretty cool because they start out with this competition called reining,” Lipsky said. “It is all about controlling the horse at different gates and you do different patterns.”

Reining is a very complicated move that only the most advanced riders can compete in.

“You do a pattern and it involves having the horse at a slow lope, or high gate, and a hand gallop,” Lipsky said. “Then you slide stop, which is where you gallop down and you sit back in the saddle and say ‘woah,’ and the horse sort of kind of squats down on its hind leg. We start the show off with reining and we all get kind of into that because it is very competitive and you’re going fast and it is one person out there doing their thing.”

Next up for Oswego State is an English show this weekend. Kirby says that because of the small size of the English team, there are not high team expectations for the show. Even still, the team is rallying around individual rider, freshman Courtney Denicourt, who can qualify for regionals with a good showing. Denicourt can join Kirby and Katherine Piarse as the only individual riders from Oswego State who will represent the team at the eastern semi-finals in late-March.

Besides rooting for Denicourt, Kirby says the eastern team will be looking to have fun with this weekend’s show.

“I have been showing since I was a little kid,” Kirby said. “So I still get nervous, I still get anxious, I still get excited, but for me, if you don’t get thrown off, it is a good day. If you don’t get thrown off and you have fun, you’re in a good place.”

As for the western team, the semi-finals are March 23 and 24, during Oswego State’s spring break, and at the New York State Fairgrounds. Oswego State is one of only three schools in the country hosting a semi-final this year. Kirby says that the key for Oswego State competing with much larger programs is passion.

“Passion is how we are able to keep up with the bigger schools,” Kirby said. “And we dedicate as much as it takes to get [to the national level] because we love this team and what we are able to accomplish together more than anything.”