Youth Sports: Equestrian is an individual sport with a league of its own

| April 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

“I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice.”
– Linda McCartney

My only knowledge about genus Equus is that top fuel funny cars have a representational stampede called horse-power under their hoods (I used to write for “Drag Racer” magazine.) My wife was raised on a Central Illinois farm, and she and her siblings showed horses. Without her, I couldn’t have written this column on equestrian sports.

The horse is as American as hot dogs, rock‘n’roll and grape-flavored Skittles, and along with camels, originated and evolved in North America. They spread across the Bering land bridge several million years ago into Eurasia. Equus dwindled to near-extinction in North America, though thankfully for Hollywood, returned home en masse with the early Spanish explorers. Imagine Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid without horses.

The Inside Track


MARLBOROUGH student Charlotte Murray rides her horse Bolt.

Marlborough School’s Charlotte Murray brings to mind the film “National Velvet.” It’s no western, though the story does depend on horses, and it was filmed in California.

Murray is one of Marlborough’s equestrian team captains, a real-life counterpart to the young Elizabeth Taylor’s Velvet Brown. She’s been riding English 10 years, and is a senior at Marlborough School.

“I got involved through my older sister, who started riding at a young age as well,” said Murray. Her biggest accomplishments to date are winning CPHA (California Professional Horsemen’s Association) Junior Medal Finals in September 2020, and a top-24 at Maclay Finals in Lexington, Kentucky two months later.

There is both an interscholastic equestrian association and an interscholastic equestrian league (IEL). Marlborough’s equestrian team competes through the IEL and participates in events throughout the year, though most have been put on hold due to the pandemic. The competitions separate riders by ability, not age or grade, and once a rider wins a championship at one level, she must bump up to the next. Equestrian is also one of the few sports where girls and boys compete head-to-head. Gender is neither obstacle nor advantage, though at the middle and high school levels, 95 percent of those who compete in the IEL are girls.

“When you are a young female, riding is such an empowering sport,” explained IEL president Suzanne Nall. “It teaches them to pay attention, and how to control and be responsible for a large animal. It also teaches them not to be victims.”

IEL horse shows are comprised of three disciplines — dressage, hunter and jumper — and riders are awarded placement points per event towards a cumulative overall championship. The organization holds four shows a year, all at Hansen Dam Horse Park Center in nearby Lake View Terrace. The 38-acre equestrian facility is snuggled against the majestic Angeles National Forest off the 210 Freeway.

Walking the course

Equestrian is not a popular sport because of cost. Owning a horse can be a financial challenge. This is where the IEL becomes so important. The organization leases horses to riders and offers trainers at reasonable rates.

“We keep it affordable so we can include a lot of riders,” said Nall.

Marlborough School has one of the area’s top equestrian teams. Ava Horowitz was JV Equitation and JV Overall Champion, and teammate Jordan Ellis was the 2020 Champion of the 3-3 Junior Hunters for Zone 10.

“The season before the pandemic, we came in first for varsity and JV levels, and the team as a whole finished second in the IEL 2018-19 season school standings,” said Marlborough coach Daniel Lynch.

“The Marlborough kids are pretty elite,” confirmed Nall.

Thanks to my wife for explaining to me the differences between a bit, bridle, halter and reins. I owe her a day at the drag races.

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Category: People

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