DOVER, Del. — Delaware State University Head Equestrian Coach Jennifer Ridgely was invited earlier this year to go to the University of Tsukuba in Japan to speak with equestrian officials in that nation and explain the Division 1 program in the United States offered to young women looking to further their educations through equestrian sports.
Ridgely, who became head coach in 2007, has taken the DSU Lady Hornets equestrian team from just a hand full of girls and methodically built it into a nationally competitive program.
Ridgely said: “The DSU Athletic Department was contacted by Japanese equestrian officials, reaching out to us, asking if we would help them learn what we have done here with our equestrian program to help young women further their educations. They are moving in that direction of providing Japanese young women with the same type opportunities for higher educations through equestrian sport.”
Ridgely, who has a reputation of being a dynamic public speaker, flew to Japan, all expenses paid by her hosts, staying at the University of Tsukuba for several days, meeting the leading thoroughbred trainer in Japan, Katsuhiko Sumii, touring the Japanese Racing Association facilities and presenting a PowerPoint illustration of the accomplishments of the DSU equestrian team over the past decade. The focus was on academic accomplishments of the team members, as well as their equestrian achievements.
DSU joined the Divison 1 listings of equestrian teams in the U.S. in the early 2000s as did other top universities attempting to meet requirements to provide women the same athletic scholarships men have always had through sports. Titled IX became federal law in 1972, providing that public schools must provide equal access through sports for educational scholarships to both men and women. That legislation was created by the late Indiana U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, who died in March 2019, while residing in his Easton home, where he retired. Bayh’s legislation made a revolutionary change impacting sports and academic sports scholarship opportunities for young women all across the nation.
Division 1 equestrian teams are for female equestrians only, attempting to add a sport that females can use to narrow the gap of scholarships that are offered to male student athletes. There are 1,500 equestrian teams in 42 states across the nation, most offered through the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. Some of those schools offer scholarships, and some do not. Some schools offer equestrian sport as club activities for both male and female students. There are now 19 Division 1 equestrian teams in the U.S.
Besides DSU, the University of Georgia, University of South Carolina, Texas A&M University, Auburn University and Southern Methodist University are some of those schools in Division 1 equestrian category. There are also 13,000 middle and high school students across the nation that compete on school-affiliated teams.
In Ridgely’s PowerPoint presentation, she talked about expectations of a head coach, typical equestrian student-athlete requirements, and the typical student-athlete daily schedule, including practice times.
Ridgely has earned high awards and recognitions including 2014, Athletic Director’s Choice Award; 2016, NCAA Coaches Academy Graduate; 2016, UEC Coach of the Year; and 2018, Delaware Diamond Award.
Her teams have continued to gain national recognition: 2008 — 2018 team qualified for the National Championship; 2013, NCEA Team Sportsmanship Award; 2015, DSU Highest Team GPA Award; 2016, United Equestrian Conference Champions; 2018, Delaware State Hall of Fame; 2018, DSU Hornet Cup Award; Multiple Yearly All-American Academic Awards. The average GPS among equestrian student-athletes in 3.28, with the four most popular majors in business, biology, animal science and communications.
DSU added equestrian sport for several reasons: increased opportunities for female athletes; high GPA; diversity; strengthens Title IX compliance; community outreach; and partnerships with Animal Science and Pre-Vet program, to mention just a few.
Student-athlete benefits include: scholarships, travel, team experience, strength and conditioning, academic support and health services.
The National Collegiate Equestrian Association along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association share the same mission and vision — “being committed to providing collegiate opportunities for female equestrian student athletes to compete at the highest level, while embracing equity, diversity, and promoting academic and competitive excellence”.
Four riding disciplines are included in collegiate competitions: Equitation on the flat, Western Horsemanship, Equitation Over Fences, and Western Reining. Riders from each team ride head-to-head against each other on the same horse in each riding discipline. None of the riders have ever ridden the horses provided before each competition. Each rider is given four minutes to practice with the horse before the competition. The rider who wins their individual pairing wins a point for their team. The team with the most points wins the competition between the two schools.
Of the experience traveling to Japan, Ridgely said, “They seemed to love the PowerPoint presentation. They had questions and were very engaged. They would like to send two campers to DSU to participate in an equestrian camp, and stay on campus to get a feel of the D1 routine.”