Recently, I had the opportunity to compete in my 6th AIEC Student Riders Nations Cup (SRNC) in Nürtingen, Germany. I have attended SRNCs in Belgium, Romania, Florida (USA), and Germany (3x). This was also my first tournament since living in Europe and I am so grateful my journey is not as long as coming from California! However, I admire and support the sacrifices the American riders make to come to these events.
How it all began:
First and foremost, I’ll start off with a little bit about student riding and how I got involved. In November of 2013, a friend I had made through the Emerging Athletes Program, Sarah Pollock, asked if I wanted to be on her riding team at a competition in Belgium. Naturally, I said “yes”, as this was my first opportunity to travel to Europe and I got to ride horses while doing so! Little did I know that saying yes would result in Sarah and I becoming best friends, me traveling to several more SRNCs, and subsequently moving to Europe.
Most riders have dreams of competing at a certain level or even on the international stage. While this can be achieved by some, it is not realistic for all, depending on what horses one has, financial means, abilities, and so forth. I know who I am as a rider and what my financial means are, and finding student riding was one of the best things that happened to me. The competitions are made to be affordable to students and all inclusive (accommodations, food, transport… minus airfare but that’s ok) for a fee of about €150. Each show is organized by students for students, and having helped organize an SRNC in Wellington, Fl., I know how difficult it can be but also how rewarding it is knowing the guests had a good time. Through SRNCs I have made lasting friendships with people from many countries, and I met my boyfriend Benedikt at an SRNC :). After my first SRNC in Belgium, I knew I wanted to live abroad in Europe for some time. And now here I am! My AIEC family is amazing, and I’m so grateful to have met such smart, talented, friendly riders and students. Even if one does not know so much about the other’s culture or language, we all connect through one thing: our love for equestrian sport.
About the AIEC:
The Association Internationale des Etudiants Cavaliers (AIEC) is the governing association of the SRNCs. Unfortunately, it is not as well known in America as it is in Europe. Several European countries, such as Germany and Ireland, have their own national student riding competitions which then segway into international competitions. I would love to see one day that the IHSA and NCEA in America could work in conjunction with the American Student Riders Organization to give more students the opportunity to compete abroad.
How does it all work?:
At SRNCs there are 12,15, or 18 (normally 15) teams competing. Each team is comprised of 3 people from each nation, or there can be international teams made up of additional riders and the golden oldies team (student riders over the age of 27). One must be a university student at the time of their first competition but can continue to ride for their country even after they have completed their studies. All riders compete in Dressage and Show Jumping and each rider gets to ride in the preliminary round of each. Dressage can be quite interesting and a little daunting to newcomers as they test is done with 3 horses in the court at the same time (US friends: think hunt teams but for dressage).
The first round of show jumping is done over a .90 m course (typically, depending on the horses’ abilities) and it is judged on style and faults (American friends think USET but without the time). The way it works is that each team randomly draws the horses they will be riding, and team chefs make the decision with the riders of who will ride which horse (after watching the horse presentation). Each horse will do the jumping course 3 times with three different riders (same goes for dressage) and whoever has the highest marks on that horse advances to the next round. I really like this system as it evens out the playing field and you don’t have to have the best round, just be the best rider on the horse you’ve drawn. The dressage and show jumping rounds become increasingly difficult each round as the jumps get higher and tracks become more technical, and the dressage is done at a higher level.
In addition to the competition, there are also parties every evening (a welcome party, a theme party, and a gala). I was quite surprised to learn that the parties last past 2 am, but that’s typical in most places in Europe since last call for alcohol is not at 2 am! The nights are spent dancing, chatting, and building friendships. Naturally, alcohol is also served (we are college students after all) and drinking games are played but one must learn the international drinking rules. An important thing I must say is I have never ever felt unsafe at an SRNC. It is a tight knit community and everyone there is watching out for each other (but if you do something ridiculous don’t be surprised if someone has a video or picture of it!)
The prize giving ceremony is one of my favorite parts of an SRNC. All of the riders dress up in their competition clothes again, country flags are encouraged, and we all receive our results and prizes. To me, it is a moment where one feels very proud to represent their country. Usually we all join together at the end to perform the penguin dance (a tradition that originated at SRNC Romania).
Overall, I am so grateful to be a part of student riding and I highly encourage others to pursue it! My advice would be to come open minded, ride your best, have the utmost respect for the organizing committee and horse owners, and let yourself immerse in the culture. You won’t regret it if you do! For all interested riders check out http://www.aiecworld.com