Winter 2019
Rachel Johnson with Kid. Photography by Brady Willette

Pony tale


Horses have been part of the University of Minnesota Crookston (UMC) since its founding, making the school a draw for students who want to study equine science or participate in competitive riding.  

Sophomore Rachel Johnson is one. Johnson rides for UMC’s equestrian team, competing in meets around the Midwest. Support from donors helps fund the team’s equipment and travel. Some of the horses they ride also are gifts to UMC. 

A recipient of the June Shaver Equestrian Athletic Scholarship, Johnson shares her story with Legacy editor Kim Kiser about what it’s like to pursue her love of riding while earning her degree in marketing.

I was never a Barbie or a Lego kid, but I always loved playing with toy horses.

Every Christmas, I asked Santa for a pony. I started riding when I was about five or six. It all led up to where I am now. 

I was recruited for the hunt seat team at Crookston. Hunt seat is a form of classic English riding. We compete in two classes: flats (riding at different gaits) and over fences (jumping). 

I practice three to four times a week, and we also have mandatory workouts—strength, conditioning, cardio. We strive to become stronger and more connected with our horses. 

When you’re riding, you have this animal with a mind of its own underneath you. You’re their pilot. If they fail to do what you want them to, it’s an error on your part. You never blame the horse. 

We practice on different horses each time. Coach tries to challenge you and make you a better rider—improve on what you did wrong and take away what you did right. At Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association meets, we do catch riding, which means the host school provides the horse. Because you’re on a horse that you’ve never ridden before, it’s considered the ultimate test of horsemanship. 

The opportunity to get on a different horse each time teaches you a lot. You learn how to adjust as you go. At the meets, the judges look for a strong lower leg, a tall upper body, and how well you connect with the horse. They want to see how you adjust if the horse isn’t really paying attention. 

The team is like a family. We’re always supporting one another and giving each other pep talks. Each year, we’re paired up with a mounting buddy. We help each other get on the horse and make sure our attire is adequate. If your collar is unbuttoned or your number isn’t straight, your mounting buddy can make that quick fix. You want to have a confident teammate. 

I always look forward to riding after class. Not everyone understands this, but a horse can tell how you’re feeling on a daily basis. They know if you’re sad, happy, frustrated, or tense. They connect on a different level. They understand, and they try their hearts out for you. 

Being able to do what I love in college is great. If it weren’t for scholarships, it would be challenging to be part of this team and maintain strong academics. Riding teaches you patience and how to maneuver through difficult situations. It has made me a better person.