Ally Marotti / Copy Chief
“You gotta sit down deep and make her walk,” Debbie Griffith shouted across the barn, assuring that her voice carried through the flying dust and over the snorting horses and chatter from team members.
Griffith, who has been coaching the Ohio State Equestrian Team for about 30 years with her husband, Ollie, led four of the team members, including her son, in practice April 14 at her and her husband’s farm, Autumn Rose Farm, in Plain City, Ohio.
But even with a national championship competition right around the corner, practice was not too serious.
“We’re like a dysfunctional family,” said Claire Sutton, an advanced rider and third-year in environmental science.
In the weeks leading up to nationals the first weekend in May in Raleigh, N.C., Valeri Wolf, an intermediate rider and second-year in biology, said she comes to practice up to six times a week, and each practice lasts an hour.
“Usually I have class morning, afternoon, and then I work, and I do my lesson at night,” Wolf said. “By the end of the day, it’s a lot, but I love it.”
Most of the team members agreed that coming to practice at Autumn Rose Farm is not a chore, despite the more than 20-minute drive from campus.
“It’s like my zen time,” Sutton said.
The Ohio State Equestrian Team has gone to the national championships for more than 20 years, but this year, Ollie Griffith said he had doubts the streak would continue.
“These kids almost didn’t get us there this year,” Ollie Griffith said. “(I was) real nervous.”
But Ollie Griffith’s worries were unfounded, as the team of six OSU students came through and qualified for nationals yet again.
“It’s compared to maybe March Madness,” Ollie Griffith said. “There’s three different schools at each semifinal. From the semifinals, you have to finish first, second or third to advance to national competition.”
The team finished second at semifinals in Dover, Del., allowing it to advance to nationals.
The OSU Equestrian Team is not a varsity team, and team members and coaches said participating in a club sport has its pros and cons.
Debbie Griffith said she’d love to see Equestrian club turn into a varsity sport. As a club sport, the team receives no scholarships and team members pay a lot of their own money.
“I don’t know that it ever will (become a varsity sport) because it’s not a big money-maker for Ohio State,” she said.
Although 10 lessons cost $300, Debbie Griffith said for college students, being on the team is the cheapest option to show horses. After the initial 10 lessons, an extra $68 will buy unlimited lessons.
Becoming a varsity sport wouldn’t necessarily be the best answer to cutting costs, as other problems would be introduced.
“With a varsity team, you wouldn’t have a whole range of levels,” Wolf said. “You have no riding experience people and people who’ve been riding their whole lives.”
There are six levels of riders allowed to participate in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association competitions, ranging from beginners to world class.
Lidia Pedrozo, a first-year in biology and animal science, will be competing in nationals as a beginning rider.
“In high school, I did cross country and track and stuff,” Pedrozo said. “I never owned a horse or anything, I just rode casually.”
Ollie Griffith said Pedrozo was not proficient at showing horses, but nevertheless, she is going to nationals.
The team has never turned away beginners, Debbie Griffith said. The team once had a member from Hawaii who had never seen horses before and just thought they sounded fun. She soon became club president.
“(A) beginner can’t have had many lessons at all,” Ollie Griffith said, “so we get beginners that have never touched a horse that end up going to nationals.”
But the team also sees the other end of the spectrum. Austin Griffith, Debbie and Ollie’s son and a second-year in marketing, is also on the team and will participate in the open competitions, which are for world-class riders. Debbie Griffith said Austin Griffith grew up on horses.
Sutton, who won a state championship in high school, said even she was apprehensive about joining.
“I wasn’t going to ride until I saw a sign that said, ‘No experience necessary,'” Sutton said. “I was like, ‘S—! I won State! I can do this.'”
Sutton’s parents bought her a pony when she was about 4 years old, she said. After growing up with her horse, she said there’s a level of difficulty in riding a different horse at every practice.
“It’s a little different because it’s not my horse,” she said. “I’m more focused during lessons, because I used to goof off, because it’s not my horse.”
Autumn Rose Farm is home to more than 50 horses, two donkeys and a longhorn. The donkeys, Miguel and Pedro, were Debbie Griffith’s birthday present from her husband and are a recent addition.
“What we do for a living is we teach people to ride,” Ollie Griffith said. “The majority of the people are not real experienced on horses.”