The availability of equine scholarship programs

by George Looby, DVM

For years the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has acted as the regulatory body for intercollegiate athletics ensuring that student athletes adhere to the guidelines set forth by that body.

In addition to its power to regulate, the NCAA is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that both male and female athletes are treated equally. In 1996 the NCAA classified equestrian as an emerging sport, this a term that NCAA uses for sports programs that are just beginning to have an impact on the intercollegiate scene and wish to gain NCAA affiliation. NCCA affiliation requires that a given college or university meet with certain very specific rules and regulations in order to gain admission to the association. In that first year there were six institutions that met the criteria set forth by the organization, today 26 schools are recognized. Under NCAA guidelines, in order for the equestrian programs to move from the emerging level to the championship level there must be 40 schools recognized by the organization. It is interesting to note that of all the sports regulated by the NCAA the equestrian program is the only one limited to women.

Another organization that fosters equestrian programs at all levels is the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA). This organization was formed to advance the level of membership from emerging to championship within the NCAA. This requires promoting the concept to potential institutions, sponsors, parents, horse professionals and others with an interest in the activity. It is then something on the order of a lobbying group which encourages the over 300 institutions offering equine competitive programs at one level or another to work towards NCAA affiliation.

Applicants to NCAA schools must be pure amateurs, never having received any prize money for competing in the ring. In those instances where an applicant may have received money, that amount can never exceed the amount of all expenses incurred that relate in any way to attending the show.

Another organization that supports the student rider at the intercollegiate level is the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). This association was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of his or her financial status or riding level. Emphasis is on sportsmanship and fun. Competition plays a role but the student’s enthusiasm and team spirit are the major factors. The objective of the IHSA competition is to offer the opportunity to riders in their first years of riding as well as to students with show experience. Eliminating the expense of shipping or even owning horses puts IHSA competitions within reach of many who would otherwise miss the equestrian experience.

The IHSA is an organization that encompasses 37 regions in eight zones in 45 states with almost 400 member colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.

College coaches in all sports have recruiting programs whereby they actively seek potential candidates to fill vacancies that occur regularly in their respective programs — largely because of graduation. Oftentimes attached to these recruiting efforts are scholarships in varying amounts to act as an inducement to prospective candidates to attend their institution. The general public oftentimes only hears about the scholarships received by the so-called big time recruits so little is known about those offered to athletes competing in other sports. Students competing in equine competition while in high school are actively sought after by college coaches but constraints of time and money may make it difficult for coaches to reach those athletes. Futher restraints are placed on coaches who are forbidden from having direct contact with any prospective team member. On the other side of the coin, high school students with varying levels of proficiency in horsemanship may be completely unaware that there are college programs that would be thrilled to have them try out for their particular equine program. The question then is how best to get the two searching parties together. High School Guidance Counselors may be overwhelmed by students seeking advice and direction. It would be impossible for them to have at their fingertips every program and every scholarship that is available out there in the world of admissions. Smaller programs may be overlooked or even unknown to many of these individuals.

In an effort to better mediate the many hurdles that a high school student must navigate to match their own skill level with the needs of a particular recruiter, Bridget Imparato — a resident of Ocala, FL — developed a plan to make this process easier and founded a search organization she calls Equestrian College Recruiter. Imparato has been an equine judge for many years and decided to establish this service when her own son encountered difficulty navigating the many programs available but found the process somewhat frustrating. It has been Imparato’s experience that many high school students wait too long before they begin their search for programs that match their own skill levels. Many kids greatly overestimate what coaches are looking for. The search may be for riders at all levels, not just the ‘hot shots.’ Many teenagers have a low level of self esteem and need assistance in reinforcing their abilities in all aspects of their lives — including those relating to their riding abilities. It is strongly suggested that high school sophomores begin the process of contacting colleges that offer riding programs in which they may have an interest so that coaches are made aware of them as potential team members.

Recent videos of a prospective collegiate rider plus a resume are most valuable to recruiting coaches. By using services such as that offered by Imparato, the prospects potential is provided to a far wider audience of schools than would be possible by sending individual applications to each of several schools. To learn more about where and how to start, contact Bridgete Imparato at 352-598-7469, Equestrian College Recruiter.com or info@equestriancollegerecruiter.com

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