Credit: Alexandra Wrede
I can’t tell if they are enthusiastic to be interviewed, buzzing from their recent win, or just happy to see their friends again, but they certainly livened up the office on a rather dull Thursday afternoon.
“If we’d come last this weekend, I still think we’d still all come away absolutely thrilled that we’d had a great time,” says Jack Hutchinson, president of DUEC and final year Radiation student.
“We’d be in the same mood that we are now,” adds Rebecca Andrews, JS Mechanical Engineering student. “It’s obviously great to win, but…”
“…It’s not the be all and end all,” says Hutchinson.
And I’d believe them – but what did happen last weekend was nonetheless a tremendous achievement. DUEC placed first overall in the Equestrian Intervarsity Championships, hosted by Queen’s University Belfast.
“Definitely not expected!” says Hutchinson. “We have a great stream of riders and people who represent the club but I’ve been in this club for four years and we’ve never come close to winning.”
DUEC have about fifty active members and had twenty-one competing in the intervarsities, who were chosen following trials held at Colours. They are one of the smaller clubs, however. Clubs from UCC and UCD usually have a lot more riders competing, and this year’s intervarsities had one of the biggest fields of competitors in recent years.
The competition takes place over two days, with riders competing in three events: Show Jumping, Dressage, and Prix Caprilli, a dressage test with jumps geared towards newcomers to student riding. Two of DUEC’s riders placed individually in the Prix Caprilli, with Aisha Khaled in fourth and Madelyn Eaves, a visiting student from the US, in fifth.
“I saw from another college there were some people competing [in the Prix Caprilli] who had only been riding about a month,” says Jemma Parkhill, a SF History and Spanish student. “They got so much support – I’m sure it must be so intimidating going in at this age to start a new sport, among people who have been doing it for years. It’s a really great part of the competition.”
The beginning of a golden era
“’The continuity in the club is set for a while, which hasn’t been the case before.'”
Parkhill was the individual all-round winner of the Show Jumping, scoring many points for DUEC to help lead them to victory.
“I’ve never gotten past the first round in a college competition before, it was a bit of a gamble actually picking me to compete in the first place,” says Parkhill, a humble victor. A gamble that surely paid off, as Parkhill’s first place was followed closely by Robbie Kearns finishing in third place individually for DUEC in the Show Jumping.
Other strong performances over the weekend came from Alexandra Wrede, an Erasmus student from Germany, who placed sixth individually in the Dressage. A strong team performance by Hutchinson, Cian Weldon and Kearns claimed them the top position in the Show Jumping. In the Dressage, two of Trinity’s teams placed in the top six. Cáit Murphy, Wrede and Emma Kennedy finished in third and a team made up of Andrews, Isabelle Odlum and Alice Alexander finished in a very respectable sixth place.
It’s worth noting that a lot of DUEC’s riders competing over the weekend are first and second years, a sign of a healthy and growing club.
“The continuity in the club is set for a while, which hasn’t been the case before,” says Hutchinson.
A level playing field
“’It’s putting the people who don’t have the hundreds of thousands to put into Jumping or Dressage on a level playing field. It’s probably one of the best elements of doing it in college.'”
Interestingly, equestrian sports are the only Olympic sports where men and women are competing on an equal footing, and it is the same at university level. You compete against men and women alike in every event. And that’s not the only leveler the club members tell me about. At the Intervarsity competition, the horses are all provided – so you don’t need to own or bring your own horse. Perhaps there are not so many obstacles to entering the riding arena as is commonly thought.
“Equestrian can be quite an elitist sport – it’s one of the few sports where money really talks. You can spend a lot of money on a great horse and become a great rider that way. This takes that element out of it,” explains Hutchinson.
“It’s putting the people who don’t have the hundreds of thousands to put into Jumping or Dressage on a level playing field. It’s probably one of the best elements of doing it in college. It opens doors for people who, outside college, those doors wouldn’t be open to them.”
Hutchinson is keen to stress the open-door policy in the club. “Whether you are the best or have never sat on a horse before, we’ll open the door to you.”
“Whether you are in first year or fourth year, in Prix Caprilli or if you win the Jumping, everyone is everyone’s friend. There’s no snobbery or superiority at all. You can be the world number one or the last person and you’re still going to fit into this club!”
“’I can see this club growing and continuing to grow. You can see that from the sheer number of first year students we had competing this year.'”
Friendship is hugely important in the club, they tell me. Camaraderie and inclusiveness are valued more than competitiveness.
“There is no sense of pressure that you have to do well,” says club captain, Van Smirren.
For Erasmus and visiting students like Wrede from Germany, and Emily Torres from the US, the club ethos is a welcome like no other.
“We don’t have the club thing in Germany, so it’s great to get involved here. And it’s also really nice to meet people who are Irish because Erasmus people tend to cling together a bit. In this club, everyone is basically Irish except for a few exceptions. And with horse people you always have something you can talk about!” says Wrede.
Torres, who was a visiting student in Trinity last year, came back from the US on her Spring Break to attend Intervarsities. “When I was here, I made a lot of good American friends but they didn’t really meet many Irish people,” says Torres. “Everyone would ask me ‘How are you making friends’ and I was like, ‘Because I ride horses!’”
“I’m always very proud of my club,” says Van Smirren. “A big part of my life in college has been with the Equestrian Club and it has definitely made being at Trinity such an amazing experience. It would have been very different if I hadn’t had it.”
Finishing their club careers on a high, Van Smirren and Hutchinson are now ready to pass on the baton. “It is by far the best thing I have done in my time in college and I can already see a legacy standing when we’re all long gone,” reflects Hutchinson.
“I can see this club growing and continuing to grow. You can see that from the sheer number of first year students we had competing this year. It’s something I can say I was very proud to be a part of in my time in college. That’s because of the people who are around me in this room right now and other committee members from past years.”