Members of the Upstate Equestrian Team practice with coach Elissa Therrien’s horses for the upcoming March 16-17 Interscholastic Equestrian Association Zone 2 Championships. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
REXFORD — Cochise Hill Farm sits idly just off Grooms Road in Rexford, its unassuming disposition being passed by numerous cars on this sunny afternoon on Saturday, March 9. A private property gate helps to safely guard the property but beyond its modest facade lies a growing and ambitious equestrian team.
Elissa Therrien, the farm owner and a Cazenovia College class of 2013 graduate, is the coach of the Upstate Equestrian Team which has around six middle- and seven high-school competing students from school districts within and around the Capital District, including Scotia-Glenville, Shenendehowa and Guilderland. They have eight horses for them to practice their skills with too and Therrien said that the youngest horse she has is six years old while the oldest is 27 — the average lifespan is around 30 years.
While the team was created just over two years ago, five of the team’s seven high schoolers will compete at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Zone 2 (New York State) Championships at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, New York on March 16 and 17, which would include the top 15 teams across the state. The top two winning teams from that state championship event will proceed to nationals from April 26 to 28 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Therrien said she was inspired to develop her own team here after her positive experiences of being with the Cazenovia intercollegiate equestrian team when she was still a student there, as well as how she had grown up riding horses. She said that she also wanted to foster a team environment for equestrian hopefuls who are not in college yet here.
At Cochise Hill Farm, among the many things Therrien has her team practice is clean their horses, and build their confidence to trot, jump, canter, slow down or speed up. For the winter, they practice in an indoor-barn but once the weather warms, they can head on to the outdoor farmland.
Speaking of her team, three practice sessions a week are offered at her farm and riders have to attend a minimum of two sessions a month. She said that practice is of paramount importance, especially since during the competition, the riders will be getting onto horses they’re not specifically familiar with and they will not receive any practice time to get acquainted with those horses. “I tell my riders to just rely on their instincts and not let their nerves get in the way,” Therrien advised her team on that.
Samantha Novitsky, 14, a Guilderland High School freshman who is among the five qualifying, said that her interest in equestrian sports first began as her mother had originally rode horses and she introduced her into riding ponies while growing up. On joining Therrien’s team, she said that she enjoys learning how to work with the horses and has made some new friends in her teammates. “I do have to say that I haven’t had much experience with bigger horses and they’ve been very hard, but it’s been making me a better rider,” she said. “It’s also kind of scary with this competition coming up because you don’t know what kind of horse you’re gonna get but it’s also fun because you get to ride a different horse.”
Katherine “Kit” Endler, 16, a Shaker High School sophomore who is another qualifier, said she joined the team partially because she enjoys riding different types of horses and competing with a team, hence seeing this as a fusion she enjoys. “Riding has always seemed like an individual sport but here, I have a team which is what I wanted, and it’s like this whole family,” she said. “The people here really want to help you do better which I really appreciate. It’s been great.” She added that she has learned that not every horse would easily cooperate which she ironically has appreciated because “you really learn to be a better rider once you learn how to ride all these different types of horses. Sometimes, you don’t get the smoothest one and sometimes you don’t get the nicest one, and that just helps you improve in the end actually.”
Both Novitsky and Endler expressed hopes in continuing to pursue equestrian sports upon entering college too, with the latter specifically saying that she has been looking into colleges with great horse-riding programs like Cazenovia and Skidmore, and she has an interest in business management too.
The common theme of having a positive team environment was echoed by Therrien who added that her team members exude sportsmanship and an overall healthy work ethic. When asked if she had a message about equestrian sports in general though, she said, “I’d like to get more word out there because it’s a really rewarding sport and not many people know about it. When people think of horses, they think of racing because it’s so publicized but equestrian sports is much more than that.”
Looking ahead, Therrien also imagines having her Upstate Equestrian Team “indefinitely” since once her current team members graduate from middle or high school and move on, new incoming members can replace them. “I’ve had five more requests to join the team from people within the past month alone,” she said. “The maximum I would feel comfortable having this team competing would be 20.”
For more information on Cochise Hill Farm and the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, visit www.facebook.com/cochisehillfarm and www.rideiea.org respectively.