As incoming students peruse extracurricular activities, they may be surprised to see that Millersville has had an equestrian team for six years, presently coached by Heidi Doolittle Douts. First hosted at Watergap Stables of Atglen, Pennsylvania, the club moved to Douts’ farm of five years, named Long Shot Stables.
“The move is mainly just to open up to everyone because we didn’t want it to be just the really serious riders who wanted to go,” says club President Regan McMinn. “We want it to be inclusive.”
McMinn included the presence of a riding club in her search criteria for colleges, and her involvement in the club has brought satisfaction, friendships and opportunities for participation as a registered showman. She is one of seven students registered for the showing team, but the club includes non-showing students as well, ranging from the levels of beginner to advanced levels of experience.
Senior Angela DiPasquale has been a club member since her freshman year and is the current Vice President. Since the age of 14, she has been volunteering to help individuals with Horseback Therapy and hopes to one day have her own therapeutic horseback riding program for disabled individuals. The equestrian team has played host to a variety of skill levels and takes on a special role in the college experience for the club’s students.
“You don’t even have to ride to be part of the club. We have people come and just support us,” said DiPasquale. “They do fundraisers with us. They come to different events that we have on team night like games or movie nights-anything like that. We don’t care who comes. We just want to be a club where people can come and talk to us.”
Part of the appeal of the club’s move is the positive environment provided by Douts, a Millersville University Alumnus in Economics, and a close connection to their “neighborhood of Millersville University,” says DiPasquale
“She and her dad used to go to horse auctions and just watch them,” added DiPasquale. “She has always had a good eye for horses. She can tell you anything you want to know just by watching them go two times around the ring.”
Contacting the team’s leadership at the time, Douts shared her interest in being a possible host farm, which reduced travel time for members and allowed for a wider range of students to participate.
Public Relations Manager Miranda Snyder was able to connect hobbies from home to being part of the team, as her family has a farm and four of their own horses.
“I live near Hershey and we have a farm and four horses-two thoroughbreds and two quarter-horse ponies,” says Snyder. “All my horses are rescues from slaughter, so they were sent by their owners to slaughter and we rescued them and brought them home.”
Douts also has several horses, which are rescues, one of which was donated to the team after their exposure through an article with Lancaster Online. McMinn noted the relevance of the stables’ name to the new chances given to the horses Douts has rescued.
Not only does the team host a show, but they also are part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. McMinn earned a fourth place ribbon and Secretary Lauren Schiel won a third place ribbon during competitions held in New Jersey this Sunday. A team of seven in showmanship, they often face larger teams such as Penn State University with team populations in the 90s.
“We came out of nowhere and sometimes we beat them which they don’t like but that’s fine. We’ll take a few little wins,” added DiPasquale.
In addition to hosting shows, the team looks forward to returning as volunteers at the Horse Expo at the Harrisburg Farm Show Complex. Whether one desires to ride in English or Western styles, get involved in endurance riding, or just get to know a few people, the equestrian team offers something for everyone. Becoming a part of the team offers a sense of community and a chance to gain equestrian experience and life skills.
Snyder notes the misconception of having to have prior experience in riding or owning a horse.
“We have members that have never been around a horse before [until joining us.] Our trainer is awesome at familiarizing people with horses and how to act around them. She really makes you feel comfortable.”
Familiarity with the horses can be one of the most important connections adding to the experience of horseback riding and learning mutual trust, along with a few other lessons the team noted.
“Horseback riding is something where you really have to work-the bond that you build with your horse and your team members,” says McMinn. “It makes you very aware of your horse and yourself.”
“You can have the strongest abs and legs, but if you can’t have that patience and forgiveness for the horse in understanding what they want, you’re not going anywhere,” says DiPasquale. It’s about “being able to tell what your horse is thinking and being able to tell what might happen.”
Students interested in contacting the team can do so at Millersville.firstname.lastname@example.org , www.facebook.com/LongshotStables/timeline and at http://muequestrian.wix.com/millersville-riding.