“Every day I play and I work, and I can’t really distinguish the two,” said Rebecca Atwater, enviably expressing her passion for her career as a professional horse trainer. Atwater, who has been the hunter/jumper trainer at Santa Barbara Stables on Amapola Ranch since 1995, last year added coach of the newly formed Equestrian Team at UCSB to her resume.
The UCSB team was founded by student Lexi Pandell in 2008. As a competitive rider in high school, Pandell said she visited many colleges that had horse teams, but “I fell in love with UCSB, despite being disappointed that there was no sort of riding program.” Upon her arrival at UCSB, Pandell looked into creating a club team on her own. “The process was incredibly difficult due to the danger and cost of the sport,” she said. However, with undying perseverance and the help of Atwater, whom she met at Santa Barbara Stables, Pandell set up an insurance plan and completed the tedious paperwork UCSB required to get the team started.
Open to seasoned competitors and beginners alike, team members do not have to own a horse to be part of the squad. In fact, for competitions, riders draw numbers out of a hat to determine which horse they will ride. The benefit, according to Atwater, is that “it levels the playing field quite a bit” and “your true abilities and talents have to come out-you might not be on the best horse of the group.”
A Gaucho alumna, Atwater recalled that when she was a student at UCSB, she and other like-minded horse-loving students rode at West Campus Stables, which was run like a co-op. Now, Atwater, a nationally ranked competitor, is pleased to bring her training expertise to the Equestrian Team. Atwater explained, “What is really great about the Equestrian Team at UCSB is that you get points in novice, intermediate, and advanced. So if you just started riding, but you really love horses, you can start from scratch and go to the competitions, even if you’re just learning to ride.”
Currently, Pandell is spending the year abroad in Ghana, and so Katie Sievers and Randi Golde are taking over as co-captains of the UCSB team for the upcoming 2009-10 season. Since childhood, Sievers and Golde have ridden in dressage, and showed in hunter jumping. “There is a huge college void that needs to be filled,” said Sievers, a senior majoring in aquatic biology and French.
As for the time commitment, Sievers said it is manageable for students. The team competes in 10 shows throughout the fall and winter quarters; additional shows follow the typical season if the team qualifies for regionals, zones, and nationals, which Sievers said “is really not that difficult to do.” Additionally, two lessons per month are required for novice team members, with plans for intermediate and advanced riders to take group lessons at Santa Barbara Stables. Currently, Atwater has 10 horses available for lessons. “Rebecca has been amazing for doing stuff for our team, [like] giving discounts on lessons, and she really helped the team overall,” Sievers gushed about her coach.
Besides interacting with the animals they love, one of the best things about being on the Equestrian Team at UCSB is the camaraderie. Sievers explained the difficulty in coming to college, with peers and roommates who know nothing about horses. “I can finally talk about horse stuff and people know what I’m saying,” she said.
Sievers reminisced about starting the team, and how the first year was unorganized. “We went into it expecting not to win anything,” she said. “We went to go ride horses, which is what we love to do.” Despite their humble expectations, the team had a successful season competing throughout southern California-from Los Angeles to San Diego-and clinching the Reserve Team Champion title at a show held at Cal Poly Pomona. As far as future plans, Sievers noted that while the upcoming school year’s show dates are still in the planning stages, the team is focused on raising community awareness of their existence by offering clinics about the theory of riding and holding fundraisers.
Named after the Spanish word for poppy, Amapola Ranch has been the perfect setting for the UCSB Equestrian Team to train, practice, and share their love of horses. Home to 77 horses, stabled in the lower 11 acres, Atwater described the ranch as “a wholesome place where everyone can just come and say ‘ahh.'” With its 125 lush acres overlooking Santa Barbara’s beautiful beaches, it’s not a shabby place to practice riding.