When discussing successful Ohio State sports teams, many students naturally think of football or basketball, however, there is another team with a long track record of significant accomplishments — the Ohio State Western Equestrian team. “I’ve been told by a past AD (athletic director) at Ohio State that we are the most successful team in the history of Ohio State University,” Ollie Griffith said. Griffith has been the head coach of the team since 1985 along with his wife, Debbie.
“(The team has) won nine national championships, they’ve won six reserve national championships … half of the time that nationals has existed, we have been either first or second since we have been competing,” Griffith said.
Griffith acknowledges many students may feel intimidated to partake in the team with such a successful history, but stressed it is a rewarding opportunity for all OSU students because of six varying skill levels ranging from beginner to open, which are the most capable and experienced riders.
“We have riders that have won world championships, and we have riders that have never touched a horse,” Griffith said. “So if you are an undergraduate and you like horses, but you think the Ohio State team is not for you — well, yes it is because they have all these different divisions.”
Lidia Pedrozo, a third-year in animal science and the president of the team, said she has been described by others as the “poster child” for their association. This is because as a freshman at OSU she had never ridden a horse, but after contacting the Griffiths on a whim and having her first lesson that same week, she is now a national champion in her division.
“I came to Ohio State and I didn’t even know people showed horses,” Pedrozo said. “It speaks volumes about our coaching staff, turning a kid who didn’t even know how to hold reins or get on a horse, and making her into a national champion less than 2 years later.”
The Western team competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which is comprised of more than 370 university teams across the nation, with only the nine best teams making it to nationals each year. With nine national titles as of 2011, the OSU team is the most successful team in the IHSA.
Aaron Boone, a second-year in science and technology exploration, recently became involved with the team, and hopes to one day own and operate his own horse farm.
“This is honestly the most affordable way you could ever want to do horse shows,” Boone said. “Compared to buying your own horse, buying your saddle, buying your tack, buying your trailer, going to the show, paying your entry fees — they already provide everything for you.”
The OSU Western Equestrian team is not to be confused with the Ohio State Hunt Seat Equestrian team, which is based off an English style of riding and coached by Griffith’s brother. While the Hunt Seat team focuses on jumping, the Western team focuses on skills like stopping, starting, turning and spinning.
Austin Griffith, a fourth-year in marketing and Ollie and Debbie Griffith’s son, is one of the most successful riders on the team and won the highly coveted High Point Rider award twice in his collegiate career, which is awarded to the nation’s best riders. He is training to win it in the spring for his third and final time.
“It is (a lot of pressure), but I can’t worry about it too much and I just have to give it my best,” Austin Griffith said.
The Griffiths own and operate Autumn Rose Farm in Plain City, which is about 20 minutes from campus. The OSU team uses a specific segment of the farm, but Austin Griffith said approximately 400 to 500 students are taught at the farm every week.
Elissa Bening, a first-year in operations management, has been taking lessons at Autumn Rose Farm since she was four years old and is now in her first year on the OSU team.
“Ollie and Debbie have been some of the most supportive people I’ve had in my life,” Bening said. “They’ve driven me to go as far as I can and to be as successful as I can be, so they are a huge part in all of my success.”
Ollie Griffith said for him and his wife, the most important part of the OSU team is what the students get out of it. Not only is it one of the most inexpensive — costing students a total of $476 to participate— ways for college students to get involved with riding, but Ollie Griffith said the relationships built among the riders and coaches are what matters the most.
“You come out and join the Ohio State team and you will make lifelong friends,” Ollie Griffith said. “It’s not just about winning — it is about liking what we do and enjoying horses.”