Paper Features: Horseback riders gallop into Florida’s heated circuits

Many Staples students are active in extracurriculars that conveniently take place on Staples’ fields, in town or in the comfort of their own homes. But there are a few students who take their extracurriculars beyond convenience, and pursue them all over the country.  Those students include many equestrian enthusiasts, who often travel all the way to Florida to pursue their love of horseback riding.

Florida offers warm weather during the winter for horses and riders to enjoy. “[Going to Florida is] so much nicer than staying at home in the cold,” experienced rider Tori Haber ’17 said.  

But the warm weather doesn’t just feel good—it also allows the horses and riders to get in much needed practice.  “The warm weather benefits my riding in Westport, because it can qualify me for more shows and also, instead of riding poorly in the cold where the horses are unhappy, we are able to ride and progress in Florida. That way, when we get back, we are ahead,” Haber said.

Among the many circuits available, one very popular pre-circuit starts in December and is called Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The horseback riders who attend the festival go for the weekends, usually leaving around 7:30 a.m. on Fridays and flying home Sunday nights.

“During that weekend time, my day consists of getting up at around 6:15 Saturday and Sunday morning, getting dressed and heading to the show to walk my course […] to plan out how [I am] going to ride the course,” WEF rider, Dimitra Ippolito ’18, said. “Then I actually get on my horses and show each of them. After, I will watch and cheer on my other friends.”

But not every rider goes for only the weekend. Haber goes for the whole circuit as well, staying in Florida from Jan. 19 through March 27. She horseback rides in Ocala, Florida at the horse show HITS Ocala. In order to keep up with her studies, Haber gets her school work sent down to her by her teachers at Staples.  

“Even when I’m home, it is difficult to put school first.  Riding has always been a top priority, so I never think about my work first,” Haber said.

Haber is not the only one who feels like it’s hard to balance riding and school work.

Carly Crossfield ’16, another WEF rider, also struggles to keep up with school. “It is so difficult [to get my work done]. I am constantly making up work each week, because I miss every Friday and sometimes even half of Thursdays, not to mention the constant delays and cancellations of flights on Sunday nights,” Crossfield said.

However, all the time that went into managing riding and school really did pay off for Crossfield. “This fall I was recruited to Southern Methodist University class of 2020 with an athletic scholarship to be a part of their Division I equestrian program,” Crossfield said. Along with Crossfield, Haber is being recruited by colleges.

Since studying on the road (or in the air) is challenging, capitalizing on every free moment is essential.  

“Plane rides are nice because it gives me a set couple of hours to work without distractions,” Crossfield said. “But I spend a lot of my Friday and Saturday nights doing school work and emailing teachers as well.”

Between the plane rides, homework, sleepless nights and circuits, the riding life in Florida is a lot to juggle. But many believe the time and effort is all worth it, because they get to live and engage in something they love to do all year round.

“Riding is my passion and in general is basically, at least for me, so therapeutic,” Haber said. “I rely on it so much.”