By Jan Westmark Bauer
Portraits by Hannah Waroway
All it took was one visit to St. Andrews University (SAU) in Laurinburg, North Carolina, for Natalie Bailey to fall in love. “I toured the SAU equestrian program and fell in love with the facility, the faculty, the riders and most importantly the horses,” Natalie said.
Now 19 and in her junior year, Natalie is still in love with her life at SAU. She stays busy riding on the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) Hunt Seat equestrian team. Natalie and her fellow equestrians from SAU are in good company, as the IHSA can be found in 40 regions and 8 zones with over 400 member colleges in 45 states and Canada. Over 10,000 members compete in hunter seat equitation, Western horsemanship and reining.
Although Natalie competed at Pony Finals and rode during her pony and Junior career, she has discovered the benefits of being on a collegiate team and having a role to play. “I compete on the ‘A’ circuit team, the ‘C’ circuit team, and the IHSA team,” she said. “Next year, I plan on riding on the American National Riding Commission (ANRC) team as well.” ANRC is an affiliate of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) and an educational partner of US Equestrian.
What appealed to you about St. Andrews University?
The equestrian program and the diversity of the college were the two main things that appealed to me. I was interested in the possibility of showing on a collegiate IHSA team and being a part of a team atmosphere. The buildings are a little outdated, but the culture within the school makes up for the conditions. You learn about new cultures and a country’s customs through conversing with your friends.
What do you like about the riding program at St. Andrews?
Riding on the Hunt Seat equestrian team gives me the ability to ride many different styles of horses. We get horses who are donated from different competitive backgrounds and each horse has a specific preferred style of riding. I also appreciate learning how to be an effective rider and to give an accurate, correct ride on each horse.
What do you like about being on a team, as compared to the show world where you compete against other riders?
I find it super beneficial to ask my teammates for advice and criticism while riding. The coach can’t always correct every rider, and I believe that your peers offer great advice and tips. The atmosphere of the IHSA show team at St. Andrews is so positive and motivational; we want every rider to succeed.
What part do you play on your school’s riding team?
I compete in Limit Fences for our IHSA team. I’m also part of the Riding Council Committee that our program has, and I am the clothing coordinator!
What was your riding life like prior to college?
I started riding for physical therapy when I was 7 years old. I was born with Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) type III and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). EDS is a connective tissue disorder that causes a wide range of physical complications from joint dislocations to cardiovascular issues. POTS is a condition that affects the quality of blood flow throughout the body.
I wasn’t able to play contact sports due to the high risk of severe injury. So, I began riding horses to slowly strengthen the connective tissue and to increase my activity level. By the age of 8, I was leasing my first pony.
For the majority of my Junior career, I competed on two Small Green ponies. I went to Pony Finals in 2018, finished 14th overall, and again in 2020. I did a few catch rides for different trainers at local and ‘C’ shows, and I also competed in IEA for a few years.
What does your typical day look like in college?
My practice schedule revolves around my class schedule. Normally, I wake up and get dressed to ride. I will go out to the barn in the morning and groom the two school horses I was assigned to care for. Then I go to class, and then back to the barn for an IHSA lesson. If I have spare time in the day, I normally will ask to ride an extra horse for a practice ride.
What does a typical show day look like for the team?
An early morning and a long day. We normally all arrive in the morning to help bring in, feed and groom the horses. We all keep track of our assigned horse and their classes. Also, our team is good about trying to keep the show running smoothly throughout the day. If there’s a mistake, we all try to fix it as quickly as possible.
Do you show outside of the SAU IHSA team?
When on the ‘A’ circuit team or the ‘C’ circuit team, you’re allowed to take a school horse or your personal horse to a show. Normally we do one-day shows during the season, but occasionally we will do overnight, weekend competitions. It’s normally a smaller crowd for shows outside of school, but we still support each other.
What are your goals for the future?
I’m pursuing a degree in equine business management, and I want to be a barn manager for an upper-level show barn.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to ride in college?
Do it! It’s a fantastic learning experience and there is plenty of room for growth on a collegiate team.
For more information, visit www.sa.edu
Photos by Hannah Waroway, bethelight.mypixieset.com, unless noted otherwise