The University of Liverpool Equestrian Team is based – you guessed it – at the University of Liverpool in, you guessed it again, Liverpool! We spoke to Beka McFarling from the club to find out all about them, and how they balance this most demanding of sports with their studies and their vibrant social lives.
KUDOS: Firstly can you tell us a bit about the Equestrian set up, how many teams you have, and in what competitions you compete?
Beka: We have 3 teams – our 1st team is in the Championship league and our 2nd and 3rd teams are in the Trophy league, and both leagues compete throughout the year with the aim of qualifying for their respective regionals and hopefully nationals! There are 6 riders in each team with 4 riders competing at each event. Each of our teams is in a mini league (in the northern region) which consists of 4 universities, each uni hosts one competition and the points scored are added up throughout the year – the team with the most points qualifies for the next round!
The competitions are made up of a dressage test and a showjumping phase, but these are run differently to normal competitions:
- There are 4 horses for the dressage phase, 1 rider from each uni competes on the same horse – which is drawn out of a hat, you have no idea what that horse is like!
- You get 5-10 minutes to warm up… a very short amount of time to get to know your horse and get them to perform their best for you so you place above the other riders!
- Each horse is judged separately with the best rider on one horse scoring 0 then the following riders gain points with how many marks different they are from the best rider
- 4 new horses are brought out to jump and the same drawing process occurs – you may now be against different riders but it will always be one from each uni, you are never against someone from your team
- You only have 5 minutes to warm up with no more than 4 practise jumps
- The jumping is judged on style with 5 marks being taken away for a pole, and 10 for a refusal.
- Again, the best rider scores 0 and the differences are calculated.
- The individual winner has the lowest points (the best you can do is end on 0!) and the winning team has the lowest points of all individuals added up – all 4 scores count.
- Points are then awarded to each placing – these determine who qualifies for the later rounds.
It sounds complicated but you get used to it and it does make sense on the day! It is a good system as it means each rider is judged for their ability to ride different horses, not on how good your horse is (which is lucky as they can be very tricky sometimes!)
And how have you been getting on this year?
Each of our 3 teams have had 1 competition so far this year and in usual Liverpool style… we’ve won them all! (our Manchester City supporting Managing Director won’t like that but we’ve left it in!) We have also had numerus top 5 individual placings including 2 individual wins – it’s been a great start to our season, long may it continue!
Most people associate uni with partying and occasional hard work on the side! Riding, and horses, aren’t necessarily things one associates with university life – how much interest is there, and how big is the riding community at Liverpool Uni?
Work hard, play harder – right?! Of course, we are a competitive team, so getting good results in each of our competitions is the aim, but being fun, friendly and approachable is also very important and clearly we are getting the message across – we had nearly 80 people sign up for the teams this year with only 5 places to fill! Hence, there is a rigorous trial process to make sure we get the very best riders, as shown by our results! We also have riding lessons on the other side of our club which also takes in a lot of students from complete beginners to experienced riders, so it really is a big community.
Do you take novices for them to learn and develop while at uni, or is it only for hardened and experienced riders?
As we have such few places on the team we try and get the best and most experienced riders we can, some of whom go on to represent GB on the Student Riders team and beyond! The lessons however are open to riders of any ability, even if you have never sat on a horse before.
To the layman, we reckon jockeys and their immense skill – in any riding sport – are often taken for granted. People think it’s just the horse doing the work. That’s just not true is it?
Definitely not! Any horse riding sport requires a lot of hard work: early mornings, late nights, grit and determination – to name a few – and sometimes (perhaps more often than we like to admit…) picking ourselves up off the floor and getting back on again! At uni, the competitions are all about getting the best out of a horse you’ve never ridden before, however, to make it even harder you have only a very short amount of time to get to know your horse and get them working with you before you perform a dressage test and jump round a show jumping course – so you have to have nerves of steel too! The competitions also often last all day and many of them occur through the winter so they can be long and cold – we’re very glad to have our warm Kudos coats on these days!
Such incredible hard work goes into all riding sports behind the scenes, from dawn til dusk. We’ve spent a bit of time in and around Newmarket – home to most British horse racing institutions – for work and for pleasure, and so we know the riding community likes to have a very good time indeed when they’re not working hard! Is there a social aspect to your riding community?
Absolutely, the social scene is a very big (and important) part of our club! We have many events big and small throughout the year including curry nights, hunt ball, trips to the races, Christmas meal, AU nights (fancy dress university sports nights) and cheese and wine night (a firm favourite!) – any excuse for a party and we’ll take it! Following competitions, we often visit the pub whether that’s to celebrate or occasionally commiserate the results of the day. I’ve made some really great lifelong friends through the riding team as we all share a common interest and it is nice to escape uni sometimes. For me, I find that it helps me to recharge as riding has always been a huge part of my life and would feel at a loss without it, but it has become so much more than that! We are a sociable and welcoming team, happy to meet up and chat whenever – over a pint or a coffee – as we are a small, close knit club which really does make it feel extra friendly, just what you need with the stresses of everyday uni life!
How would you sell the idea of coming along to get involved? Also how can people get involved, and when do you train, compete etc?
We are a fun, friendly and (unsurprisingly) horse-mad team who are more than happy to welcome any new members to the team! Even if you are not a seasoned rider, you are more than welcome to join the lessons side of our club. We train at a local riding school on Wednesday afternoons and our competitions are generally on Wednesdays, but they tend to last all day. Nationals are held at Bishop Burton each year and are a fun few days away whatever the results. Our team sign-ups are at the beginning of each new academic year so if you are planning on coming to Liverpool university or are already here, why not come along to find out more about what we do?!
Thanks so much to Beka for taking the time to give us such an in-depth interview. It’s a real thrill for us to work with such a buzzing club that wears its lust for sport, and life, on its sleeve!
KUDOS is proud to work with a number of equestrian centres and yards around the country, as well one in Florida in the US. Using cutting edge technology, we provide made-to-order equestrian teamwear – such as team tracksuits, jackets, polo shirts, gilets and more – to yards and stables that want to dress for success. Good luck to the UoL Equestrian team for what’s left of the year and beyond. If you’d like to get involved with the club, you can contact them via their Facebook page.
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