With more than 170 unique clubs on campus, one organization with which students may not be familiar is the Vassar College Equestrian Team (VCET). While the Juliet sells hats with “Vassar Equestrian” on them, few students know the ins and outs of the team. VCET is an org for those who love horses. Whether you already know how to ride, or have never been on a horse before and want to learn, this club and team will welcome you regardless of any previous riding experience.
VCET is based at MLC Farms in Millbrook, New York, about a 40-minute drive off campus. Owner Michelle Clopp teaches the team members twice a week in group lessons. In each hour-long session, you will be placed with students of a similar skill level. Unfortunately, students must pay for lessons, but Clopp gives discounts to Vassar students, and the team covers the transportation costs.
This year the organization is comprised of nearly 20 members. Almost half of those riders compete in local shows. VCET participates in Zone 3 and Region 3 of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), which is the entity through which collegiate riding is organized. Vassar students compete in the walk-trot division, all the way up through the intermediate level, against schools like Centenary, Marist, West Point, SUNY New Paltz, Sarah Lawrence, William Patterson, Drew and Stevens. While competing is an option for club members, it is not mandatory.
Member Molly Berinato ’21 has been in love with horses ever since childhood. In an emailed statement, she described how VCET allows her to continue her passion for riding and balance her academics with the sport. “After a long day of class, going to the barn has to be my favorite activity,” she stated, “on the drive up I get to nap or watch the scenery turn from crowded highways and strip malls to bare, rolling farm country.”
Being able to make her way off campus provides a different perspective of the surrounding area and the opportunity to meet those outside of the Vassar community. She also noted an unexpected bonus to training sessions: “Once at the barn, we are greeted with two excited, wiggling corgis and our trainer Michelle.”
VCET offers more than the ability to ride horses; it allows members of the Vassar community to bond off-campus over shared non-academic passions. Co-captain Grace Henrich ’21 commented via email, “Being a member of the equestrian team has been a major part of my time at Vassar. Life can be pretty stressful sometimes, and being able to get off campus for a couple of hours and spend some time with the animals really helps.”
Even though competing makes some days strenuous, Henrich still finds them enjoyable: “Show days are long and tiring, sometimes eight hours outside in the winter, but they are so much fun because I can spend them with my team and meeting riders from other schools.”
Maya Goodwin ’20 joined VCET her first year at Vassar and has remained a member ever since. She expressed that the org appealed to her because she has appreciated horses ever since she was young, but found it difficult to ride regularly. She described, “I grew up in the city and would have to escape upstate to find horses. I knew I wanted to go to a college with a riding team so I could ride more regularly and get proper horsey friends.”
Despite spending time abroad in Edinburgh, Goodwin continues to keep up with the team and their various pursuits. She elaborated, “I’ve been following VCET on Facebook and on Instagram and I am so proud of what the team has accomplished. More than 20 students have signed up for lessons this semester, we hosted our own competition and our competing team has more than doubled.”
VCET continues to focus efforts on expanding the club to make riding available and affordable for all. The Executive Board is very conscious about their budget and the costs associated with the club. Henrich expounded: “The hardest part has been managing the finances. I’m very happy that our team has doubled in the past year, but that comes with its own problems. We’ve had to skip shows that other teams in our region expect us to go to, and some of our riders have missed out qualifying for regionals this year.” While budgeting concerns have been an obstacle, the team is looking forward to welcoming new members and continuing to work with Vassar for financing.
Berinato explained how happy she is to be part of a fun organization with such supportive members, declaring, “I’m so proud of what the team and I have been able to accomplish during my time at Vassar, and I’m excited to see where we can go next.” Goodwin emphasized how this organization has changed her college experience for the better, saying, “Whenever I’m on a horse I still feel like I’m fulfilling my childhood dreams, and I hope that VCET will continue to make that possible for students at Vassar for many years to come.”