In a secluded clearing in the woods across the river from Ferris’ campus, several students practice a sport, few know Ferris offers.
They proudly wear their jackets around campus and in classes. Many people refer to the sport as “Horse-back riding,” but it is much more than mounting that large animal and riding as fast as possible.
The equestrian team is in season. Yes, Ferris indeed hosts an equestrian team. Though they don’t ride shows in Big Rapids, they do compete against schools around the state of Michigan including Western Michigan, Albion, Grand Valley, Michigan State and Michigan.
Ferris sophomore criminal justice major Katherine Petermann is in her second year balancing her care and love for her horse with her commitment to school.
“I generally put horses first,” Petermann said, “but school should always come first. The time commitment including school is a struggle.”
While most Ferris students are hours from waking, Petermann silently slips out of bed before the clock even reaches 6 a.m. she sneaks off to the barn as the sky slowly brightens for her chance at an early morning ride before class.
“I’d say on average I put in 40 hours a week,” Petermann said. “It’s a seven day a week commitment, I’m out here every day.”
Preparation for shows is just a small part of what the team’s commitment is all about. These are animals that need to be cleaned, fed and taken care of daily. It’s an expensive sport; one of the most expensive out there depending on whether or not you buy the horse.
Months are spent earning the animal’s trust, as horses are incredibly intuitive animals. Despite the work and cost, the members of the team agree that it is truly a high point in their day to be out at the barn.
“Riding isn’t just riding,” Ferris senior Shannon Reid said. “You have to make sure they’re fed, you clean them, and clean their stalls. A lot of people pay to have that stuff done, but you still have to do a lot of that. It is a stress reliever, though.”
It’s not to be forgotten how dangerous the sport can be. A careless lapse in judgement or concentration can end tragically.
“You’re riding a 1,200 pound animal that can kill you,” Petermann said, “so you really have to have control over them.”
The dangers don’t deter Petermann, Reid or any of the other 20 members of the equestrian team. They’re a group that silently may be as tough as any at Ferris. The smallest misstep can be their last.
The dedication to the sport endears these athletes to the animals and the lifestyle it takes to be successful.
“It’s a good place to get away after a stressful day of class,” Petermann said. “You just go to the horse and instantly it’s a relaxer. It can turn a sad day into a happy day.”
The equestrian team’s next show is Oct. 5 at Western Michigan University.