September 2016 - Dressage Life: College & Competition
Written by Genay Vaughn
Thursday, 01 September 2016 04:49
PDF Print E-mail

You can do it all, but it takes extreme commitment.

by Genay Vaughn

I am often asked how I juggle competition and college, and is it really possible to do both? Although most riders choose either to focus on their riding or to hang up their bridles and go to college, I think it is very possible to do both.

If you’re considering that choice, the most important question to ask yourself is how much commitment are you willing to put into riding? If your answer is not total commitment and you really want to enjoy the college experience, I recommend you don’t ride competitively during college. It takes an extreme level of commitment and dedication to continue competing and going to college.

The first decision I had to make, so that doing both was possible, was where I would go to college. Most kids choose their college based on majors, location and college culture, but I focused on one thing: how close the college was to barns in the area.

Unlike other college athletes, equestrian practice doesn’t take place on campus. Unfortunately you end up driving to go ride. My decision came down to University of California, Davis, and University of San Diego. I considered these two because UC Davis is 45 minutes away from my family’s equestrian center, although depending on traffic it can take longer, and San Diego has a lot of barns within practical driving distance.

How close your college is to your barn is extremely important, because you will have to drive to the barn every day. You don’t have control of the times classes are scheduled, so you might have a very narrow window of time to go to the barn and get your riding done and then make it back in time for the rest of your classes.

Your Horse’s Needs

I also chose UC Davis because I didn’t want to change my horse DW’s routine. He lives a pretty lavish lifestyle and because it was possible for me to keep it, I decided to stay – even though I’m sure I would have enjoyed those San Diego beaches. Also, because DW is a stallion, it’s not easy finding a place that can put him on the Equicizer by himself, where he has a huge 12’ x 24’ stall with a connected run, beautiful Eurofelt footing and hours of turnout every day.

I knew if I kept DW at home I wouldn’t have to be constantly worried about who’s handling him, and how he’s doing, because my mom would be keeping an eye on him while I was at class. I think it’s crucial that you choose a farm you can trust to handle and keep a watchful eye on your horse while you are at school.

Once you are enrolled in college I think the most important task is scheduling your classes. This can be your biggest obstacle, because unlike other college athletes, colleges don’t give equestrians priority registration because you don’t compete through a college program.

My strategy was to schedule all of my classes in the morning, if possible, or all of them at night. A majority of the time, however, I ended up with classes morning and night. That gave me a big enough gap in the middle of the day so I could drive 45 minutes to the barn, ride a few horses, then drive 45 minutes back, park my car at my apartment, bike to campus and barely make it back in time for my next class. Often I got to class still smelling like the barn!

Many times I had to pass on registering for a certain class during a particular quarter because the class time didn’t fit into my riding schedule. If that happens to you, try to take the class in summer school, or eventually you will have to take it and just make it work with your riding schedule.

Additional Challenges

Once you’ve juggled riding and college considerations, the next big challenge is the competitions themselves. During competition season you will end up missing a ton of school, there is no way around this.

For example, whenever I compete in CDIs the jog is on a Wednesday even though my U25 Grand Prix class may not begin until Friday. This requires me to leave on a Monday, because the drive from Elk Grove to Los Angeles or San Diego takes seven hours or longer, and I want my horse to have a day of rest to prepare for the jog. So I end up missing an entire week of school.

My advice for handling this is to make friends in your classes so you can find out what you missed while you were gone, be a dedicated student and build relationships with your professors so they know you aren’t just skipping and are more accepting of you missing class, provide proof of your competitions to your professors and explain to them how big a deal the competitions are and that it’s exactly the same as the basketball team missing school for their competitions. Lastly do homework while you are at the competition so that you are not so behind.

This was the most difficult part for me because UC Davis is on the quarter system. Instead of the normal 15-week semester, there are only 10 weeks in a quarter. This requires you to learn everything at a much faster pace, so missing a week can put you extremely behind. It is so important that you stay on top of your work, even if you are gone.

You should read the syllabus before you register for a class to find out if attendance is mandatory. If so, I recommend taking that class at a different time, not during competition season. The same goes for math and science classes, because attendance is almost always required.

When you know you will be missing school, tell your professors weeks in advance so they can plan your make-up exams before you leave.

Choosing to continue competitive riding, or taking a break from it during college, is a personal decision.

If you choose to get minimal sleep for the next four years and can be extremely dedicated and organized, continuing your competitive riding can be done.

If you aren’t willing to sacrifice a lot of normal college experiences, you should just focus college and return to riding later in life.

There’s nothing wrong with either choice – it’s all down to your personal decision. What’s right for one rider could be all wrong for another. We’re all individuals, just like our horses. Whatever your choice, good luck and enjoy the journey!


Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS,
and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at: