June 28, 2017
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Saddle Up and Ride

  • The three riders who are representing the Sonoma State University equestrian team at this weekend's Zone 8 competition at Stanford are, top left, Nicole Luters, Suzie Littlewood, top right, and Taylor Lesser, bottom left. Photos by Emily Fedorko and Courtney Debrunner

By: Dave Williams
April 7, 2017
SSU sending three English style riders to equestrian competition at Stanford

Sonoma State University’s equestrian team knows it will be a decided underdog this weekend at the Zone 8 competition at Stanford. But after watching Mississippi State end the University of Connecticut women’s 111-game basketball win streak, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

“We compete against Stanford, Davis, Berkeley and Cal Poly,” said Holly Hay, the SSU equestrian team’s publicity officer. “We compete against high caliber schools that get a lot of funding, that get horses donated to them all the time.”

The three riders competing for SSU at Stanford are Taylor Lesser, Nicole Luters and Suzie Littlewood. Two other SSU riders, Caitlin Filby and Emily Pattison competed in a competition in New York a couple of weekends ago.

The equestrian industry is a major part of the Sonoma County economy, and SSU has gotten plenty of help from locals.

“The funding we get is usually through smaller amounts from local contributors, people who know our trainers or people who know members of our team,” Hay said. “We have gotten a lot of donations this year, which has been really awesome. We’re trying to put the word out that we’re here because a lot of people don’t know about us.”

SSU pretty much relies on two people to amass their horses – Carrie Hover and Peter Larson, who trains the SSU riders in the Western style of riding. 

“Carrie buys horses she wants us to ride because she wants to improve the team” Hay said. “She’s invested in it herself. She does a lot for our team. Peter does the same thing. Basically, they’re just looking out for us and team.”

Any SSU student interested horse riding, no matter the level of skill, is welcome. The only requirement is the willingness to put in the effort. That includes attending meetings, mixers and fundraisers as well as plenty of community volunteer work.

Hay said Hover does an excellent job of matching horses to the riders, considering their experience. Hover usually gets experienced horses or looks for some that are partially trained and possess the skill set to ensure safe rides.

“We have certain horses that are easier and safe to ride for people who aren’t used to horses and haven’t ridden before,” Hay said. “Basically, just slower, easy going horses that never spook. Our horses don’t really spook but they’re animals so you have to be ready for anything. She puts us on horses she feels is on our level. She’s been riding since she was super young. Once she feels you have more skills she’ll put you on a different horse.”

The three who’ll compete at Stanford this weekend will be riding English style, which involves jumping. There are several variations to this style but all feature a flat English saddle without the deep seat, high cantle or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle. At the most basic level, most versions require riders to use both hands on the reins, rather than just one hand seen in Western riding.

Also, in English riding, a judge tells a rider what to do and the rider and horse must execute it. Western riding in competition is such where there is an established pattern the horse and rider must perform.

The last chance to see the SSU team locally this school year is April 30, where they’ll perform in a schooling show at the Santa Rosa Equestrian Center. It’s a hunter-jumper show.