UConn Western Team qualifies for Nationals 

Horse Back riding is a tough skill to master. Western Riding is a horseback riding style that fits the needs of ranchers and Cowboys. Photo by Oscar Ruiz/Pexels.

Two members of the University of Connecticut’s Western Team have qualified for Nationals for the first time in eight years, and the second time in the team’s history. Mack Simon, a sixth-semester biology major, and Collin McLaughlin, a seventh-semester history major, both qualified at semi-finals and will be traveling to Lexington, Kentucky from May 4 to May 7 to compete nationally. 

The competition will be held by the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association. Simon qualified for individual ranch-riding, where they will be judged on the horse’s quality of movements and responsiveness to the rider. McLaughlin will be competing in horsemanship, where he will be judged for his position on the horse and control. 

McLaughlin said they were honored to have made it this far already, but excited for the opportunity to show at a national level. 

“At the moment, we’re already within the top twelve riders in our class in the country. A lot of that goes to help build you up and get you in that mindset of ‘you’ve made it this far, whatever happens next is just a bonus,’” McLaughlin said. 

According to Simon, the shows are not just a chance to show off their skills. They also provide a chance to learn from all the experienced riders. 

“Once you get to the semifinals and nationals, everyone is of such a high caliber. I think there’s so much to learn from that,” Simon said. 

Semi-finals were held from March 18 to March 19 at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. According to McLaughlin, one of the highlights of the show was getting to interact with the riding community. 

“You’re surrounded by people who love all the same stuff as you,” McLaughlin said. “It was really cool to talk to and see all these teams from all over the country that do the exact same thing we do.” 

Despite riders coming from all across the country for semi-finals, McLaughlin said they would find connections everywhere. 

“Even though the horse community is a worldwide community, at shows like this, you really feel like you know everyone,” McLaughlin remarked. “It feels like it’s a really small world.” 

According to Simon, riders need to quickly adjust to a new horse at each show, assigned by a random draw. 

“Every horse has their own personality,” Simon said. “Getting to know these horses and being able to show them off is just really fun.” 

McLaughlin and Simon will be continuing their normal weekly lessons, as well as picking up extra lessons as nationals come closer. McLaughlin said riding horses has many benefits. 

“It’s also a fantastic way to exercise and stay in shape,” McLaughlin said. “Just working with the horses in general is super therapeutic.” 

Simon said they have been riding and showing since they were young, but they only began riding in the western style their freshman year at UConn. Although McLaughlin had some past riding experience, he said he was relatively new to western riding when he joined the team last year. 

“I fell in love immediately. I knew the very basics, but it was such a welcoming environment and so low-pressure,” McLaughlin said.  

Both McLaughlin and Simon expressed gratitude and respect for their team and coach for encouraging them as they continue to compete. 

“Every single person on the team is fantastic,” McLaughlin said. “We’re so incredibly grateful to everyone who put time in and the rest of the team for supporting us.” 

Leave a Reply