By Sydney Weil

There has almost always been a big horseback riding community on campus. Now, those riders have a way to gain experience in a team setting and be a part of the school athletic program.

This fall marks the beginning of the new Sonoma Academy Equestrian Team, the only team of its kind in the area. Under the direction of coach Maggie Clancy, eight freshmen and one sophomore practice at Strides Riding Academy twice a week. They will compete for Sonoma Academy at shows throughout the year.

“I’m excited,” Clancy said. “We have a good team.”

Each student is put in a level that they will compete in at shows, and they often switch horses for each practice so they can get used to riding different horses. They use a combination of the 10 horses Clancy owns and the team members’ horses who board at the barn.

At competitions, the team will be riding horses provided by the host team, so they have to be prepared to ride a horse they have never seen before.

“There’s a pretty good range (of levels), which is nice,” Clancy said. “There are people who are just barely learning to jump, up to super advanced riders.”

Practices involve a combination of flatwork and jumping, as well as a bit of cardio work for the riders. This allows Clancy to work with smaller groups; while the more advanced riders are working with her, the beginners will be doing exercises, and after a little while they switch.

While Clancy has coached a middle and high school team through Strides Riding Academy for the past three years, this is the only school team in the area, and one of only a few in the state.

The team will ride under the jurisdiction of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. Founded in 2002 with 200 riders, they now oversee 8,000 middle and high school student riders (grades 6-12) in 32 states.

Clancy first approached Athletic Director Chris Ziemer with the idea of starting a team about two and a half years ago.

“At the time, we were just starting to add baseball, so it wasn’t the right time to add a new sport,” Ziemer said, “but we planted the seed to stay in touch and learn more about how it might work.”

There has always been a large group of students who use horseback riding for an Independent Study PE; even now, there are at least 10 students who ride outside of the school program.

“I wasn’t aware of the organization that sanctions the high school competition,” Ziemer said. “Maggie had a couple of SA students that were riding with her, and she approached us and explained the process to us.”

By working with these students independently, Clancy came to learn more about the school and its philosophy. Because of what she was learning about SA and its proximity to the barn, she thought it would be a good fit for a team.

Once they started the process of creating a team, though, there were a few obstacles that had to be overcome.

Ziemer said, “We wanted to make sure we had enough interest. We tried to create a program that would be achievable financially and also make sense for someone like Maggie to offer the program.”

Now that the team is starting to get used to the routines of practices and can start to prepare for shows, Clancy hopes to make sure that they can come together as a team.

“This year, I really want the school to learn what the team’s about,” she said. “I want to create a group for the riders where they can have teammates and members that they have something in common with. As we go on and learn the show circuit a little more, we’ll start to get more competitive, but this year it’s important that everyone get to know each other and have some fun. That’s what it’s all about.”

Over the next few years, she would love to gain some more school support so that the team can become a bigger part of the school community. Looking to the future, though, Clancy is mostly excited to become a part of the school.

“I think that the faculty is awesome, and the kids are really great,” Clancy said. “Everyone’s got a great attitude and is upbeat and optimistic and I’d really like to be part of that.”

Welcome to the pack, Equestrian Team, and good luck this year!