Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2011

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On the cover: Writer/producer Lee Eisenberg '99 entertainS a packed evans hall in the first of a series of centennial "Conversations with alumni" in January. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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Saddle Up

Saddle Up
The Connecticut College equestrian team watches the action at an ihsa show at the Mystic Valley Hunt Club in November. Photo by Bob MacDonnell.

College equestrians learn what it takes to be winners

By Leslie Rovetti


When June Macklin arrived at Connecticut College in 1956, the young professor from Indiana was in new territory. But there was one constant between her Midwestern home and the southern New England shoreline — horses.

The longtime faculty member, now the Rosemary Park Professor Emerita of Anthropology, quickly became a part of the College's established equestrian culture. She joined the drill team and became friendly with the Porter family, who bred racehorses and allowed members of the College community to use their riding facilities.

“We were all hanging around with our tongues hanging out,” Macklin recalls, laughing.

The Porters' former horse farm is still north of the campus, on Benham Avenue, but it is no longer in use. “The lower ring is now a mud puddle,” she says.

Today, the tradition continues with the Connecticut College Equestrian Team, a club affiliated with the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The students ride at the nearby Mystic Valley Hunt Club in Gales Ferry, which is where they moved in 2005 after their previous coach, Marge Inkster Staton '60, passed away.

The team's new mentor is Richard G. Luckhardt, the hunt club's general manager. Luckhardt is in his sixth year of coaching — giving lessons and guiding the riders through competition against eight schools in the IHSA: Central Connecticut State, Fairfield, Post, Sacred Heart, Wesleyan and Yale universities, the University of Connecticut, and Trinity College.

Like the Connecticut College team, the IHSA continues to grow. The Coast Guard Academy recently became the 10th team in the region, adding one more competitor to the schedule. Luckhardt, the president of Zone 2, Region 5 of the IHSA, is also the coach of the Coast Guard Academy team.

The Connecticut College club is open to all students, but Luckhardt says it tends to be more popular with women. It is open both to those who want to show and those who only want to take lessons. Within this year's roster of about 30 members, Luckhardt says about half joined just for the lessons, at least for now.

“It's getting bigger and bigger every year. It's growing,” he says. “I'm happy to say it's popular.”

The team also continues to be successful. It's ranked third in the region, and one rider, Melissa Groher '12, was a reserve champion at the 2010 national competition in the intermediate over fences category. Competition is at different skill levels in a riding style known as hunter seat equitation.

For the first time, the club is also working on getting more publicity. Team members put together an exhibit for Fall Weekend 2010, with a horse, Macklin's old photos, membership information and bagels.

“We've tried to make ourselves more visible,” Luckhardt says, with the message that “we're there and we're trying to grow, and it's a great sport.”

Katie Lynch '13, the youngest of the team's tri-captains, is always looking for ways to promote the club and strengthen the bottom line to ensure their future. It costs about $40,000 a year to fund the team's activities, she explains; the school pays about a quarter of that through the Student Government Association. Annual dues — about $900 to $1,000, she says — make up the remainder.

With their competition successes, the team is gaining momentum and even attracting students to the College. Lynch says that when she was a high school student investigating potential schools, the program played a major role in her decision to come to Connecticut College, where she studies government and environmental studies.

“I'm very glad it can be a part of my life at Conn,”
she says.

Although the equestrian team is a big part of campus life for Lynch and others, neither the team nor the school owns any horses. A handful of students bring their own horses, Luckhardt says, stabling them at Mystic Valley Hunt Club and transporting them home for winter break and summers. Others ride the club's horses. In competition, students don't ride their own horses and are instead assigned horses at random.

“You literally draw the horses' names out of a hat,” Lynch says.

The team's appeal to the students is not just about participating in a sport; it's also a social activity.
“I would say that the equestrian team has given me lasting friendships, joyous weekends and an amazing way to stay connected to riding horses,” notes Katie McCarthy '11, who shares captain duties with Lynch and Nicole Adduci '11. “Coming from California, the team has really given me a way to meet wonderful people who enjoy the same things I do. The best people ride, and we have a whole team of them.”

For Macklin, who has ridden since she was 3 years old and still rides when she can, riding horses is also a life lesson, one that has helped her in her career as an educator. Training a horse, she says, has taught her how to be a responsible teacher, whether her audience is equine or human.

“It taught me all about what an effective teacher should be doing,” she explains. “The horses were teaching me.”


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