On most Saturday mornings at 7:00am, students usually are fast asleep in their dorm rooms. However, horseback riders Rachel Penner ’19 and Ella Holowesko ’20 are awake and ready to train off campus by 8:00am.
Their destination is Kelianda Farms, an equestrian facility in East Granby, Connecticut, where the pair spend most weekends practicing with their horses. During the winter, they travel all over the country to competitions from Marlboro, Maryland to the HITS Winter Circuit in Ocala, Florida.
Both Penner and Holowesko travel for show jumping contests, where they typically compete against 30 to 150 other girls in events judged on a variety of technical and flair points. The sport requires a deep relationship between horse and rider, as even one small mistake can prove costly.
“You have to trust [your horse] completely and both be in it 100 percent, because it’s not just for you but for the animal,” said Penner. “In riding, you can enter a race and lose within the first second.”
Despite the challenges and cutthroat competition at contests, both girls have enjoyed success in their age and height categories. This year, Penner was crowned champion in one of the largest equestrian riding competitions in the nation, while Holowesko qualified as a top-70 rider and won her respective division.
The pair feel that their titles are a product of sustained dedication for many years. Holowesko recalls that she missed “birthday parties on Fridays even when I was eight or nine years old. I would be at the barn late and then wake up early on Saturday to go ride.” Penner began riding even earlier than Holowesko; she has been taking lessons since she was four years old.
At Deerfield, Penner and Holowesko’s riding commitment often means finding time to finish work or juggling horseback training with volleyball, as both girls play the sport as a their fall co-curricular.
“I’ll sometimes have to go in the car and just do some homework quickly before my class,” Holowesko commented. “If you have shows on a weekend, like horseshows, when everyone’s getting time to rest and catch up on work, you’re sitting in a barn.” Although riding is a lot of work, she has no regrets. “It is a big commitment but at the end of the day you can make it work.”
“I feel like a lot of people don’t see horseback riding as a sport,” noted Penner. “But riding takes a lot of physical and mental strength, and it’s an incredibly huge commitment. It’s a dedication to an animal who you’re trusting your life with.”
Ultimately, Holowesko and Penner’s passion for the sport motivates them to train off campus up to six times a week.
“It takes up a lot of time,” said Penner. “But there’s nothing more satisfying to me than going to a competition and doing the best I can.”