Overview: Thanks to its Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch and Equine Science and Agriculture degree programs, Cal Poly Pomona is a natural fit for an equestrian team.
The school's hunt seat and western teams compete on the IHSA circuit and have been regular contenders, as a team and/or as individuals, at regional and national collegiate finals for several years since the squad was formed in the mid 90s.
The Cal Poly Pomona Equestrian Team.
The team has an open door policy toward anyone, of any experience, who wants to join. "We are a club sport on campus, and that means anyone willing and able to participate is welcome," team adviser Jen Earles explains. Being on the team means taking group lessons and being involved in all activities, but it doesn't necessarily mean a spot on the show roster. This season's squad consisted of 40-50 members, about 20-30 of whom competed regularly. The number of competitors at each show varies because it's dictated by how many the host school can accommodate. Every effort is made to rotate show opportunities fairly, but experience and level of preparation do play their part.
The team has several riders who compete in english and western. "It's a great way for students to try something new," says Jen. "I think any time in the saddle is good for riders and that being exposed to different disciplines is really helpful toward becoming a well-rounded rider. It also makes the team feel more cohesive."
Student Mix: Jen estimates that 60% of Bronco equestrians have had an intermediate or above level of riding experience. In many cases, the ability to be on the team is a deciding factor for kids considering the school, but about a quarter of the team's members didn't know CSU Pomona had one until they got to campus.
"As a club sport, we do not recruit or offer any athletic scholarships," Jen explains. "We participate in campus activities and have a booth at orientation, but we also rely on word of mouth."
About half the team's riders are on an equine science or agricultural
studies academic track and the majority
Laura Thomas, a senior and captain of the western team, pictured at Western Semi Finals last month. Laura will be representing CPP as the Open Reining & Horsemanship rider for the team at Nationals, and also as the Zone 8 Region 2 AQHA Rider at Nationals. Photo by Kevin Chin.
Unique Attributes: In keeping with the school-wide "learn by doing" motto, the team is entirely run by students and that presents many learning opportunities. The hunt seat team has a coach in Hailey Quirk, an alumna who represented the Broncos in national success, and the western squad gets help from another alumna, Gina Cunningham. But much of the instruction is organized and provided by the students themselves. "It's a great stepping stone for those who want to become professional horsemen," Jen says. "You can really learn a lot about riding and horses by teaching others."
Horse care and barn chores are divvied up between team members, which is typical of most collegiate programs. Thirty minutes a week is the average for Broncos.
Getting to ride at CSU Pomona's W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center is a definite perk, and offers students the option of bringing their horse to school. The Center was donated to the school in 1925, by cereal magnate and philanthropist W.K. Kellogg. Located on campus, the current facility was built in 1974 and is home to the school's approximately 85 purebred Arabians. The Kellogg Ranch is renowned for equine science education, outreach, research, breeding and promotion of the Arabian breed.
Team advisor Jen Earles and her two reiners, both of whom were lent to the Western Semi Finals hosted by the Broncos.
Stand-Out Accomplishments: In late March, the Broncos hosted the IHSA's Western Semi Finals at Pomona Fairplex, a "huge undertaking" to put it mildly. Just over 100 riders, representing 30 colleges and universities, participated. Per the IHSA format, the host school for any show provides the horses and the Broncos were charged with rustling up mounts beyond the team's six suitable steeds. Thanks to great relationships with surrounding horse people, they were able to provide another 35-40 horses.
The hosting workload was divvied up between fellow Region 8 teams, including their hunt seat riders, and the Broncos were mainly responsible for all things related to the horses' care.
As with any school, the team's competitive success varies from year to year as members graduate and freshman enter. The last two years have been quite strong, Jen notes. Last year, the team sent a few individuals to IHSA Nationals, where Lauren Alexander was national champ in alumni equitation on the flat. Current Hunt Seat Coach, Hailey Quirk, earned the same honor in 2010, and was also reserve champion in the alumni over-fences category.
The Western team has been Zone 8 Region 2's champion every year since 2002, except for 2011/2012. The Broncos finished third in the early-March Semi Finals, and will return to Nationals for the team competition this year.
Tanya LoPatriello, a senior and member of the Hunt Seat team, at the UCSD Hunt Seat show at Galway Downs in February. Tanya competes in Open Fences & Flat.
Qualities Sought: Even though the Broncos welcome all comers, certain traits enable students to get the best possible experience from their
"People who are willing to work hard are a good fit," says Jen. "We like competitive students, but good sportsmanship is the key. There are so many variables in the way the competitions are run. For example, you never know which horse you are going to get to show. If you can go with the flow and take a few hits now and then, that's good.
"We also like students who are outgoing and friendly and work well in group settings," she continues. "We get so many new riders that we really rely on those with experience to show them the ropes."
Horses: The Broncos currently have 16 horses. Eight are owned by the school, most of them donated, and the rest are on a lease of some sort. "We are always looking to improve the quality of horses in our program," Jen explains. Inquiries about donating a horse for the english squad are plentiful, but western horses have been harder to attract. Potential horse donations are taken quite seriously. "We always try to determine if the horse is a good fit for our program and any new horse goes through at least a two- to four-week trial."
While the school cannot guarantee a lifelong home for donated horses, Jen and her team bend over backwards to find exactly that. "We have the luxury of being able to have a horse for sale for a year or two while we look for a good home." The team accommodates the request of many donors who want first dibs if their horse needs to be retired or has become unsuitable for the team. Often there's a student or former student who's attached to that horse and jumps at the chance to buy it for the team's set price for such mounts: $1. That's assuming they will make a good home for the horse.
Costs: Thanks to the administration's support, fees are minimal: The $200 ($40 of which is IHSA membership) annual fee includes practices and participating in Horse Show Team events throughout the entire academic year. Funded through the school's "instructionally related activities" budget, show expenses are mostly covered by the club. This year that included travel to Colorado for the Zone finals and, most likely, to the Nationals held May 2-5 in Harrisburg, PA.
The team also raises funds toward its expenses. The school-wide Pumpkin Festival in October is typically a big money maker for the team and Bronco equestrians get involved with several events affiliated with the Agriculture program.
Check Out the Team: Attend one of the many shows the Broncos host or observe them at a different Zone 8 venue. The IHSA season starts in October and continues through March with regular shows within the Region 2 area of Southern California and Arizona. Zone Regionals are usually held in late March and/or April and the Finals take place in May.
Or contact Jen or Hunt Seat coach Hailey Quirk (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a visit.