Fairfield’s Equestrian Team Rides to the Top
By Jess Estrada ’15
As the crowd standing outside the ring waits and watches, Fairfield University’s brilliant red provides a stark contrast to the sea of gray. Freshman Cristina Longo slides her foot into the silver iron rung of the stirrup and swings into the saddle with a practiced grace. She collects the reins in her hands and has mere seconds to connect with her unfamiliar steed.
It’s show time.
The Fairfield University Equestrian Team (FUET) recently wrapped up its best season in years — rising to third place after nearly a decade in the dark.
“Our riders work hard in their lessons, and that has carried over to the shows,” said Coach Naomi Garauder, who began coaching the Fairfield University team in 2011. In her first season, FUET moved from 10th to 5th place in Region 5, which encompasses schools from the entire state of Connecticut, and it now ranks third. This year, the team was edged out of second place by a mere two points. Students such as Longo compete against other colleges and universities as part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, also known as the IHSA. Riders can compete at all levels of skill — from jumping classes of three-foot fences to the basics of hunter-style riding.
The biggest challenge? All riders compete on horses they have never ridden before. There is no time to practice. Once a rider mounts their horse, it’s time to perform. “While our riders only have the opportunity to practice once a week, we compete and hold our own against teams who can ride on a daily basis,” said Coach Garauder. “We are becoming a powerhouse school in our region.”
FUET is a sport club with sixteen members, from freshman to senior, who train weekly with Coach Garauder at two local stables — Newtown’s Sea Horse Stables and at New Canaan’s Mounted Troop. This past season, the team placed first at two shows and placed second at another two shows — culminating with an overall third in the 2012-2013 season. FUET also succeeded on the individual level. This past year, nine riders individually qualified for the Region 5 Championship Horse Show. At this regional championship, three FUET members won their classes: Olivia Tourgee ’16, Irene Peluso ’15, and Jess Estrada ’15. Two FUET members placed second in their classes: team captain Sara Pollack ’13, and Cristina Longo ’16.
This year, student riders Peluso, Estrada, Pollack and Longo also competed at the Zone 2 level, which consists of top riders representing qualifying schools from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Ontario, Canada. Pollack attributed the team’s success to the dedicated riders and to the commitment of a recent addition — Coach Garauder, who competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association in her college years, and who also promises the Fairfield University riders a home cooked meal after every win. “The team has a great balance of being serious and competitive,” said Coach Garauder, “but still having fun at the same time.”
Captain Pollack expressed her gratitude to compete with talented and committed riders.
“I think the best part of FUET for me has been connecting with a group of people who understand my love and passion for riding,” said Pollack. “It’s a unique sport and requires a lot of dedication, determination and patience. Though we come from different riding backgrounds and different groups of friends, we share out love for riding, and that’s an unbeatable experience.” Click here to read more about Sara Pollack.
Top: Sophomore Jess Estrada with Coach Naomi Garauder after winning first place at Regional Finals.
Middle: Freshman Cristina Longo checks the length of her stirrups before beginning her class.
Bottom: Sophomore Irene Peluso competes in an Open Fences Class.