Story by Lily Harris, Assistant Sports Editor
As the sound of hooves hit loose dirt, the Murray State equestrian team began their season.
The Murray State equestrian team started as a club level sport in 1973. Because of its popularity in 2008, director of Athletics Allen Ward changed the club status to a varsity sport.
The team now competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association the categories of hunt seat and stock or western seat.
There are more than 8,300 students that compete in this division from the U.S. and Canada.
The equestrian team is compiled of two different teams: hunt and stock. Both are led by Head Coach Sue Robinson.
This year 51 students tried out for the hunt team, we also had 72 students try out for stock. Robinson said.
Stock seat or western riding and hunter seat are styles of riding that focuses on the rider’s ability. A judge will base the winner of a class on how well each rider can ride a horse that they have never been on. In the IHSA there are 240 hunt seat riders, 81 stock riders and 18 riders do both styles.
Each style of riding comes with its own dress. Hunt seat attire is a formal style that consists of a black or navy coat with a white or lightly colored button-down shirt. Pants also known as “breeches” can be beige, green-beige or a similar color.
Riders are also required to wear an approved helmet and black field boots. For western style, It is required to wear chaps over your pants, a fitted blouse and a western hat.
One difference between stock and hunt is the horse’s tack. Tack is the piece of equipment that you place on a horse. Stock tack consists of a western style saddle, bridle and bit.
A western saddle is considered the “cowboy saddle,” which is similar to what one might see in movies.
The horn on the saddle is the rounded piece of the saddle designed for roping cattle and for holding on when needed. This saddle is designed for comfort and support of the rider.
The bridle is what goes over the horse’s head and helps the rider with connection to their horse. Only certain types of bits are allowed in showing.
Hunt tack consist of an English saddle, bridle and bit. The design of the English saddle was developed to allow the horse freedom of movement. Unlike the western saddle, there is no horn.
The bridle consists of a headstall that is connected to the bit. Most of the bits used in show are snaffle bits.
Cassidy Gatlin, senior and one of the hunt team captains, has been on the hunt team since her freshman year.
“My favorite part of being on the team is how we are able to learn from each other,” Gatlin said. “Since riding tends to be an individual sport it is very difficult to have a huge group of people who are there to support you and see you do well.”
The Murray State equestrian team starts showing at the end of September with the hunt team starting at Sewanee: The University of the South, followed by the stock team on Oct. 10 at Roane State Community College.