Knowing its existence was on the line, the Equestrian Team presented 35 passionate letters to SA Senate last Monday. In those letters, members, professors, alumni, parents, and professional riders in the community argued powerfully in support of the team’s request for three simple exceptions to SA Appropriations Committee rules.

“This club has shown me a life I never knew existed,” wrote Allison Arne in her letter. Once a nervous freshman who felt out of place, Arne was inspired to join the Equestrian team after coming across an article from an alum reflecting on what she wished she had done at the UR.

“At the winter activities fair, I beelined straight for the equestrian table,” Arne writes. Like many, she didn’t quite know exactly what she was signing up for. She signed the information sheet and what she found with her team was something that many freshmen hope to find in their own extracurricular groups. “I was welcomed into a community that wanted me there… I finally felt like I had found a home at this school… [it was] something I didn’t know I needed.”

Stories like Arne’s are not uncommon among the members of the Equestrian Team. They each found themselves participating in an activity that would not only grow to define their UR experience, but an activity that allowed them to grow together. “I cannot put into words how much this sport has given me,” writes e-board member Jillian Penfield.

Yet, it seems like these sentiments were either ignored or misunderstood when a motion for an exception was struck down.

This article is a dissent of that decision.

First, let’s clarify the rules in question. SAAC only gives club sports up to $5,000 in subsidies and will only let club sports charge their members a maximum of $222 in dues per semester. On top of that, SAAC rules say it will match each club sport one-to-one in member dues up to a maximum of $222 per semester. These rules exist because SAAC has limited funding resources for club sports, but still wants to help fund club sports.

The Equestrian Team competes with over 400 schools of varying sizes (including Cornell) in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The program is not varsity, like Cornell’s, but it consistently comes in the top five for each of its competitive shows, with about a third of the team qualifying for regionals each year. Riders consistently place top 10 for their divisions each semester; senior Kelly Tighe, the current president, has been a two-time Top 10 national finalist in the Teresa L. McDonald Scholarship Challenge, putting her above 400 people in ranking and earning her the right to compete at nationals, where she has previously competed and won scholarship money.

Equestrianism is rather expensive. During the 2015-2016 academic year, the team requested an $18,000 subsidy and was granted it. Two years later, the money the team requires has decreased to $11,000 — due in part to the persistent negotiating of the club’s leadership with their coach, their stable, and other fee-charging parties. With that said, although $11,000 was requested, the Equestrian team received $17,850 this year.

Right now, funding for the team takes up around 22 percent of the SAAC budget for club sports, which the Senate deemed an unnecessary financial burden and, as a result, gutted an entire club over a rule that didn’t even exist until 2017.

Twenty-two percent is a lot of money, but that decision was premature.

According to Tighe, the team has been exploring more sustainable ways of funding since 2014, and has been looking to set up an endowment. Additionally, the team has reduced its costs over the years by over $19,000 and prior to this year SAAC was able to give them the funding they needed to support their move to a more sustainable model of funding.

To successfully transition to a sustainable funding model, the club will need to apply for funding over the summer and be allowed to receive specific alumni funding. If it ceases to exist, it will be unable to set anything up or transition into sustainable funding or even receive donations.

What the Equestrian team needs is more time and more flexibility.

While an argument stands that the Equestrian Team can just disaffiliate with SA, this would disqualify them from completing in their association and would force riders to pay a massive premium in required disaster insurance, which covers riding related injuries. The club is therefore, somewhat ironically, stuck with SAAC regardless of whether or not it wants to be.

During the Senate meeting, an argument was made about “financial exclusivity,” in defense of not granting the exception to the cap on member dues, because an increase in dues would make the club less affordable for its members. While yes, increased dues would be an increased barrier for members, the team is one of the most affordable equestrian clubs in the nation. Compared to other universities at our level of academic achievement, the program is only a fraction of the cost. In a practical sense, the Equestrian Team brings a sport that is usually locked behind gilded gates to people who would otherwise never have the chance to participate. “We’ve never turned anyone away,” explains Tighe, “on a personal level, we’d all be willing to help members pay as well.”

So here are the questions we need to address: Should we give the Equestrian Team more time? Should we give them a chance? Should these exceptions be granted?

Senate’s vote on Monday night said no. No exceptions. Sophomore Senator Leif Johansen explained that the final decision came down to the fact that “the Equestrian Team was breaking the rules and policies of SAAC” and that “SAAC was just doing its job.” While it is true that the club has always functioned outside of limitations, the reasoning for enforcing these new rules is unacceptable in justifying the negative impacts for the members of the Equestrian Team and our community as a whole.

We belong to a community that is committed to supporting the passions of its students. This is reflected in our curriculum, in our course offerings, and in every piece of advertisement published by admissions. Those values should not be compromised for, as Johansen said, “some jerseys and a Zipcar.”

The rigid guidelines of SAAC funding were not made with clubs like the Equestrian Team in mind. This isn’t about equal treatment of all club sports, this is about equity. Equestrian doesn’t have a choice but to be bound by the SAAC guidelines and the team was not given adequate time to make a proper transition.

That’s why exceptions have been granted in the past and why exceptions ought to be granted now.

By defunding the club, the Senate is not only undermining the moral obligation of an educational community to provide access to opportunities that are not available to students from specific backgrounds, but it is also failing its constitutional duty to create an environment in which students can pursue their interests.

Considering how much Equestrian is a part of the lives of its members, we owe it to them — as peers and members of our community — to at least have a Senate vote during which no senator walks out and for which the entire body is present and voting.

If senators are forced to reopen this matter on appeal, they must vote again. When they vote again, they are obligated to weigh their arguments and the impacts of those arguments properly with the understanding that this isn’t just about numbers. As Johansen puts it, “No matter what this money gets reallocated to — no one will remember what we bought with that money 20 years from now […] but they’ll remember that we took their ability to do what they love away from them.”

Senators, readers, and anyone else who gives a damn about extracurricular activities at this school: All the team is asking you for is one more yes vote. It’s asking you to let it increase its own dues to pay for a sport that its members love. It’s asking you to give it the time to implement a sustainable funding solution. It’s asking you to let it keep existing. It’s asking you to give it a chance.

Tagged: equestrian SA

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