Trinity’s best kept secret is larger than you think. Few people on campus are aware of the presence of the Trinity University Equestrian Team, but it’s time that everyone saddled up and learned a little about it.

The club reaches out to new students at the student involvement fairs in the beginning of each semester, but membership remains relatively small.

“Many people aren’t aware we have a team, and once they find out that we have a team they’re like ‘Oh, that’s something I’d be interested in.’ We have a booth at Student Involvement fairs, which is where we do a lot of our recruiting,” said Chelsea Runacres, president of the equestrian club since her second semester as a first-year.

The team meets and trains at the Hill Country Riding Academy, owned by coach Stephanie Cook. Members are not required to own their own horses.

“Our coach has a personal barn and property in Bulverde. She competed and rode for West Point in college. She has lots of private clients and her own horses, totaling about twenty. We have lessons with her as a team,” Runacres said.

The time commitment for the team is individually flexible and fairly lax, though it is recommended that competitors train at least once a week.

“The schedule works throughout the week however it fits with your schedule. It requires as much dedication as you have time to give it,” Runacres said.

Vice president Erin McGee confirmed that the equestrian experience is what you make of it.

“One of my favorite things about the team is that it’s not a huge time commitment,” McGee said. “We ride once or twice a week and only have three horse shows a year, so only three weekends are used for showing. Honestly you can put as much time into the team as you want. You definitely get out what you put in, and our coach understands that school comes first.”

Cook is one of 19 certified horse riding trainers in Texas; she instructs equestrian team members and trains them at her Bulverde riding school.

“We offer lessons for all students here at Hill Country Riding Academy, consisting of 30 minutes of cleanup, untacking and grooming the horse. All told, the students will spend at least two hours here at the barn each time they ride. We also have team building functions on Sundays, which could be bareback lessons, switching horses, etc.,” Cook said.

Though some of the members entered the club with prior riding experience, Runacres assures those who are interested but lack previous involvement in equestrian activities that they should not be intimidated and are encouraged to seek more information on joining the team.

“Our size means we don’t do cuts really, so you can come in with no experience. We represent Trinity in the entire division at all levels,” Runacres said.

The team competes under the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). The club faces teams competing for regional universities like Louisiana State, Texas State, University of Texas Austin and Rice University. The division offers competition for all levels of experience.

“The IHSA has two purposes. One is to allow students who already know how to ride to continue riding throughout their college years — ensuring they will keep their skills current and stay active in equestrian activities after graduating,” Cook said. “The second purpose is to introduce riding as a ‘life’ sport to those who have never had the opportunity to be around horses before. Sometimes as much as 50 percent of the TU Equestrian Team is comprised of beginning riders. We are able to safely introduce the riding experience to students at a reduced rate, all while they are contributing members of a team.”

Runacres and McGee commented on the benefits they’ve felt over the years from joining the club. Runacres’ involvement in the team has reached areas of her life including confidence and personal growth.

“It’s fun and a little nerve-wracking, you have to kind of ‘cowgirl’ it up. Don’t let nerves get best of you,” Runacres said. “Practice and practice and say ‘Hey, I’m gonna make this work.’ It’s all this confidence of, ‘I can make this giant animal do what I ask it.’ Especially first-years who are going through big changes in life — it’s a great tool to have for confidence, professionally, in the classroom and all that. I’ve seen that kind of progression and personal growth.”

Alternatively, the team has meant a great deal socially for McGee.

“Being on the team has helped me to meet people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. My freshman year, I didn’t know anybody at Trinity, but joining the team helped me to quickly meet people and see friendly faces on campus. I also feel like I’m more a part of the Trinity community since I’m able to ride and compete for the school. I love that I can represent Trinity,” said McGee.

Though equestrian sport typically lies on the more expensive side of the athletic spectrum, the equestrian team is united in its effort to make participating and competing more affordable for the average Trinity student.

“It’s a way to make a sport that is normally more financially demanding, more accessible to college students. You need only your own personal gear or clothes to compete on the team. We pay our coach a very discounted student rate for lessons,” Runacres said. “We also fund-raise to pay for travel, and Trinity provides entry fees and membership fees for the NCAA division. I know that I and some other members couldn’t be a college student without the club, so we add it into our budget, but we try to do convenient payment plans and fundraising and often have donated clothes and gears.”

Cook encourages all students to seek more information on the club and give it a try.

“Please come on out and try us out. We have lots of amazing horses, ponies and miniature horses who would love to meet you,” said Cook.

McGee also expressed her hopes that more students might try to get involved this year.

“Right now we have eight girls on the team, but we’re hoping to expand this year. We’re a small team, but we really get to know each other and we really have a lot of fun at the shows,” McGee said. “If you’re thinking about joining, do it.”