Seriously horsing around Seriously horsing around Seriously horsing around

Students saddle up for fun and competition on UW Equestrian Team.

By Caitlin Klask | Photos by Mark Stone | March 2024

In 2023, supermodel Bella Hadid returned to competitive horse riding. Meanwhile, the “Barbie” movie reminded us that patriarchy could be way cooler if it involved more horses. Chanel recently featured a horse and rider in haute couture on the runway. So … could it be that the trendiest club on campus is the UW Equestrian Team?

Fiona Dunbar, ’23, represented one of many science majors on the team.

Officially called the IHSA Equestrian Team at the UW, the club sport and registered student organization competes under a program called the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. Just because it’s a club sport doesn’t mean these students are horsing around: IHSA can get really competitive. Teams can vie to qualify for regional and national competitions either as individuals or as a team by accruing points at local shows throughout the year. And this year, the UW team is close to qualifying for its regional championship, which will be held at the Red Barn at Stanford University in April.

For a school in a major city, the UW has plenty of students with equestrian experience. “We get a lot of interest from Instagram,” says Lauren Bowser, ’24, who joined her sophomore year after finding out about the equestrian team at a tabling event on campus. Originally from Kirkland, Bowser, a physics and astronomy major, is one of many science majors on the 23-person team. During Bowser’s freshman year, the team was on hiatus from competition due to the pandemic, so members met through Zoom. “We were spending the past couple of years kind of recovering from COVID-19,” says Bowser, explaining that the IHSA also experienced a shakeup in leadership. “So it’s our first year [that is] totally normal.”

“Normal” to this team means driving 50 miles just to get to practice. Practices are held in Stanwood at Ready to Ride Training, about an hour’s drive from campus. “There’s lots of stops for snacks involved,” says Bowser. “There’s coffee involved. There’s a group playlist. It’s fun all around.” The rural training facility offers occasional weekday lessons, but the UW’s main practices happen on Saturdays. That’s when riders will have a two-hour lesson that includes adjusting to different horses, since “normal” to an IHSA team also means adapting to whatever horse you’re assigned.

“The first time you’re on your horse is when you’re being judged in the arena,” says Bowser. For IHSA shows, locals provide horses, and riders are assigned horses based on height and weight requirements. This method tests a rider’s adaptability on the spot. Once, Bowser was even assigned a mule.

It also means a rider doesn’t have to own a horse—or even regularly ride the same horse—to compete. The IHSA prides itself on being open to all ability levels. “It’s less pitting people against each other than my past experience has been,” says Bowser. The UW Equestrian Team grants awards allowing members to forgo annual membership dues ($125 to $175, depending on participation) or receive a free package of lessons. Team members are passionate about horses, their sport and their team, and they’re happy to share the experience with anyone. Well, anyone who knows it exists.

“That’s the joke of the team,” Bowser says. “We have a sticker that says ‘UW has an equestrian team.’” Another idea to raise awareness: “One day we would love to somehow get a horse on campus.” And who would vote “neigh” on that?

Pictured at top: Olivia Brandon, ’23, rides with UW team members at Ready to Ride raining in Stanwood.