The University of Miami loves to compete. You can find UM athletes in the pool, on the turf and, if you look close enough, even on horseback.
The University of Miami Equestrian Team (UMET), founded in 1997, is a small organization on campus that many don’t even know exists.
UMET is sanctioned under the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), the sport’s governing body. More than 400 universities are under the umbrella of IHSA. Schools are divided into eight zones, containing 37 regions across the United States and Canada. UMET belongs to zone five–region five, where it has been a top 10 team for the past decade.
UMET has sent riders to national competitions, finishing in the top five as recently as 2015. Club members are passionate about what they do and encourage the UM community to be just as enthusiastic.
The focus for competitors isn’t speed or a goal line but how they move on the horse.
Riders and their horses should look like one entity making fluid motions, a concept known as equitation. Judges look at body position, posture and pace to score a rider’s equitation.
“The number one misconception about the club is that we race,” said sophomore Emily Dollard, treasurer for UMET. “The ball in this game is a live animal with a mind of its own.”
There are two types of competitions, or classes, in an equestrian show: flat and over fence. A flat class has no jumps – contestants are judged on the execution of various riding styles in a closed course. An over fence class features jumps over hurdles of about three feet.
Horses are provided at every show and randomly assigned to riders. There is no warm up or time to practice with the new horses.
Dollard said this is all a part of the fun.
“It’s always different every day and it’s a challenge,” Dollard said. “According to the judges, if you can ride a horse you have never seen before well, that is the mark of a good rider.”
The sport is a good source of cardio and strength training for athletes and also enhances personal growth and mental toughness.
Club president and UM senior Madisen Liebl noticed the profound effect of the sport.
“I’m the most impatient person, but when I’m on the horse, I’m the most patient,” Liebl said.
UMET Secretary Joanna Niworowski said the sport puts her in a different element.
“When I’m in the arena on the horse, you don’t hear the audience or anything else – you’re in your own bubble,” Niworowski said.
UMET members practice with their horses once or twice a week off campus at Tally Ho Farm with trainer Karen Flynn. There are eight to 10 shows a year, and about 18 members from each team are sent to compete. While all riders compete individually, one rider is chosen to receive points for the team.
The three major shows every season are regionals, zones and nationals. After placing sixth in the region last year, Miami’s goals for this season include finishing top five in the region and sending riders to nationals.
Not all members of UMET are required to go to shows. Students interested in taking lessons as a hobby can also join. The club encourages members to participate at their own pace and level, and members can travel with the team to watch competitions.
UMET is also dedicated to volunteering. It volunteers at Whispering Manes, a therapeutic riding center to help children with mental and physical disabilities.
Vice president Jessica Brady is thankful for her involvement with the club.
“The University of Miami Equestrian Team has provided me with opportunities and friendships that I would never have achieved otherwise,” Brady said. “It has provided me with some of my best memories but also supported my growth as a rider. Joining the team was one of my best decisions, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
UMET is seeking to expand membership this year. Those interested in joining can email the club at Umiamiequestrian@gmail.com. Fans can keep up on the club’s Facebook page, University of Miami Equestrian Team, and Instagram page, umequestrian.