Advice for High School Freshmen & Sophomores
If you're about to enter your freshman or sophomore year in high school, the following steps are suggested if you wish to get on track toward becoming a candidate for a college with an NCAA-sanctioned riding team - i.e., a team that's a member of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association:
Step 1: Consult National Collegiate Equestrian Association website to learn general information about NCAA Equestrian, and to review information on the colleges that offer NCAA-sanctioned equestrian teams.
Step 2: If possible, attend a NCAA Equestrian competition in your area to get a better idea of what the competition format is all about.
Step 3: Register online with the NCAA Eligibility Center – formerly known as the NCAA Clearinghouse (found at www.ncaaeligibilitycenter.org). This is a very important requirement! It is best to register before you take the SAT or ACT.
Step 4: Download or order a copy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association "Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete" (found at https://www.ncaapublications.com) to become familiar with the NCAA and to review the list of courses that are required to meet the organization's criteria by the time of high school graduation. Consult your high school guidance counselor about getting on track toward becoming a NCAA Equestrian recruit, as these counselors usually have vast experience (from other sports) in navigating the often bewildering and overwhelming volume of NCAA rules and information.
Step 5: Alert your trainer of your interest in a NCAA Equestrian school, and give him/her information on the NCAA Equestrian competitions so he/she can help and support you as you move through the recruiting process.
Step 6: Organize your horse-show records – specifically, start making a list of year-end awards and/or seasonal show highlights, and update it regularly. Also, from 9th grade forward, start keeping a detailed accounting of all prize money won and expenses incurred at horse shows, which includes saving and organizing all receipts. Prospective Student Athletes are allowed to win prize money. The amount of prize money is not allowed to exceed your expenses for that calendar year (i.e. Jan 1st to Dec 31st).
Step 7: Prospective Student Athletes ARE allowed to call Equestrian coaches at any time. However, an Equestrian coach is NOT permitted to return an email or phone call until September 1 of your junior year in high school. Per NCAA rules, coaches are prohibited from contacting you during your freshman and sophomore years in high school but may contact your trainer. During your freshman and sophomore years, the best way to get your questions answered is to keep calling a coach until he/she answers.
Step 8: Keep up your grades at school, and take the PSAT more than once (if possible) as a good practice test for the SAT and ACT. Academic performance is a very important factor in NCAA Equestrian recruiting.
Step 9: Visit the websites of NCAA schools that you are interested in and fill out the recruiting questionnaire. No matter your age, it is helpful for coaches to have your graduation year and contact information.
Step 10: Consult www.collegiateequestrian.com website for individual NCAA Equestrian schools that offer summer riding camps. This experience can offer a hands-on glimpse into what it's like to ride at the varsity level, even if the host school isn't one in which you'd necessarily be interested in attending – and you can pick up lots of helpful information, too.
Step 11: Keep riding, learning and showing as much as possible!
Going Beyond the Basic Steps
Q: When a candidate has completed the Equestrian Athlete Questionnaire on the respective websites of the NCAA Equestrian colleges she might be interested in, should she wait to see if she hears back from coaches? Or should she go ahead and mail her video, riding resume, academic resume and cover letter to the coaches of the schools she favors?
A: The candidate should send all of the above-mentioned personal materials, regardless of whether she hears back from an Equestrian coach following submission of her questionnaire. Those personal materials can be submitted to coaches any time during the candidate's high school years, although sophomore or junior year is recommended. It's also recommended that if a candidate hasn't received a response to her personal materials within 14 days or so, she should follow up with an email or call to the coach (or coach's assistant) to inquire about her current status. This not only confirms that the candidate's personal materials were routed to the right place, but also conveys her continued level of interest to the coach.
Q: At what point in a candidate's high school years is she advised to make initial contact with coaches at NCAA Equestrian colleges to which she might wish to apply?
A: Summer is usually the least-busy period for NCAA Equestrian coaches, and thus ideal for devoting time to reviewing videos and resumes. However, any time during the candidate's junior year is recommended for initial contact with Equestrian coaches either by email, letter, phone call or campus visit. In terms of correspondence, it's important to know that email, phone calls, and texts cannot be initiated by a coach until September 1 of the prospect’s junior year in high school. After September 1 of the prospect’s junior year coaches can have unlimited email, phone, or text communication with a prospect.
Q: When a candidate makes initial contact with a NCAA Equestrian coach, what method is usually recommended – i.e., email, letter, phone call, etc.?
A: After submitting the Equestrian Athlete Questionnaire, a follow-up email to the coach is recommended – with personal material (video, resume, etc.) mailed separately-some questionnaires require a youtube video upon submission. In these initial emails, candidates are advised to let coaches know their current high school year and anticipated graduation date, so the coaches will know if there are any restrictions on the method of their response.
Q: Once a candidate has established contact with a coach, should she continue to update the coach on her riding progress and accomplishments? And if so, how often should she submit updates?
A: After a candidate has submitted her video and resume, she may hear back from certain coaches who express an interest in keeping her on their radar, so to speak. In those cases, the candidate should continue to update those coaches (via email) on her riding progress and accomplishments – as well as letting coaches know of specific upcoming horse shows (and their dates/locations) in which she will be competing, in case coaches want to come and watch her ride. A bi-monthly or monthly update to coaches is suggested.
Q: At what point is it recommended that a candidate make a personal campus visit to an NCAA Equestrian college in which she's interested?
A: Under NCAA rules, if a candidate wishes to make an "unofficial" visit (i.e., the candidate covers all of her own travel expenses), she is welcome to visit a Varsity Equestrian campus at any time during her high school years – although sophomore or junior year is recommended. On those unofficial visits, the candidate is permitted to make an appointment to meet with the Equestrian coach, but the meeting must take place on campus. However, if a candidate is formally invited by an Equestrian coach to make an "official" visit (i.e., the host college covers some or all of the candidate's travel expenses), she cannot make that official visit until after the first day of her senior year in high school. Under NCAA rules, candidates are permitted to accept up to five official visits (to five different NCAA Equestrian colleges) during their senior year. While a candidate may wish to make a campus visit during her high school's spring break, coaches caution that this may not always be the best time – as NCAA Equestrian colleges often are at the height of their spring competition season during that period.
Q: When a candidate is planning a NCAA Equestrian campus visit, what other arrangements should she consider making for the time she's there?
A: On an unofficial visit, it's always recommended that a candidate call ahead to schedule a campus tour, a meeting with the Admissions Office, and an appointment with an academic advisor in the area(s) of study that most interest her. On an official visit, usually the hosting coach will schedule all of those tours and meetings for the candidate. Official visits only allow the candidate to remain on campus for up to 48 hours – so her time there needs to be mapped out efficiently and productively. But whether the visit is unofficial or official, it's always advisable to go while regular classes are in session – to get a better feel for the school, and to possibly have a chance to watch a practice session of the Equestrian team.
Q: When a candidate visits a prospective NCAA Equestrian college, is it recommended that a parent accompany her to meetings with the coach?
A: Typically, parents are encouraged to attend meetings between coaches and their daughter. Coaches take this time to get to know the candidate's personality, and to allow the candidate an opportunity to ask her own questions. At the end of the visit, parents are encouraged to ask any questions that might not have been addressed.
Q: How realistic is it to expect an offer of an athletic scholarship from a NCAA Equestrian college?
A: Scholarship criteria vary from institution to institution, but it should be noted that not every NCAA Equestrian athlete is awarded scholarship funds. A select few receive full ride scholarships. Athletes can also receive partial scholarships. A number of athletes may not receive any type of athletic scholarship – but they might be eligible for partial (or full) academic scholarships, either from the respective colleges or from outside entities. Also, at some colleges, an athlete who starts on an Equestrian team as a walk-on might earn an athletic scholarship over time as she continues to improve her riding, maintains a satisfactory academic standard and exhibits a hard-work ethic toward the team.
"Do's and Don'ts" for Making a Riding Video
DO make sure to use a videoing mode that allows you to zoom in on horse and rider.
DO (for Hunter Seat) show examples of flat work – including basic dressage-type maneuvers such as circles, sitting trot, halt transitions, lateral movements and no-stirrup work; and jumping – including footage of some horse-show rounds, but also clips from informal practice at your home barn such as bending lines and equitation turns. As much as possible, display how you ride a horse on the bit.
DO (for Western Horsemanship), include clips from some of your horse shows, along with practice footage showing the walk, jog, extended jog and lope in both directions; also some practice patterns.
DO (for Western Reining), include clips from some horse shows, along with footage of reining maneuvers from your practices or lessons.
DO wear breeches, tall boots and a snug-fitting tucked-in shirt for Hunter Seat; and jeans, boots, chaps and an appropriate fitted shirt for Western.
DO show examples of riding at least three different horses – and indicate (with video captions) each horse's age and the current level of its showing or training. Riding a variety of horse types is suggested – for example, don't be afraid to show how you handle a very green horse.
DO use Youtube, flash drive, or a DVD format, if possible.
DO be sure to attach your name and all your contact information (including graduation year) to your video case, as well as in an opening video caption.
DON'T make your video any longer than 15 minutes.
DON'T add background music, unless it's unobtrusively neutral and of moderate volume.
DON'T expect your video to be returned to you
"Do's and Don'ts" for your Riding Resume and Introductory Letter
DO tell the coach all the reasons why you are interested in that particular college, and why you are interested in her his/her team.
DO conduct some research on the college's team history and dynamic – and mention some specifics in your letter that show the coach you've done that research.
DO be sure all of your contact information (phone numbers, mailing address and email) is included in your letter – as well as your current class year (grade level) in school.
DON'T make the letter more than a few short paragraphs.
DON'T send the letter without double-checking your spelling and grammar!