By Lauren Boston
When Erin Richardson rides, there’s a connection with her horse that can’t be denied.
“You have to know what your horse is thinking and feeling, and tell him in the right way what you want him to do and how to do it,” she said.
The senior began riding when she was nine years old after making the weekly trip to the barn with her older sister, and has competed in countless competitions ever since.
Richardson was raised in Powhatan, Va., a rural county west of Richmond, and says riding is a ‘family thing.’
The studio art major owned a horse in high school and now rides several different horses as part of the University of Mary Washington equestrian team.
During her career at UMW, Richardson has gone to regional and zone finals every year, and made the leap to Nationals last year. Individual awards include high point rider and reserve high point rider at several different shows.
But for Richardson, it’s all about the thrill of the sport.
“I love the connection between horse and rider and the rush you get when you have a great jump, course or ride in general,” she said.
At UMW, Richardson competes as an open rider, both flat (non-jumping) and fences (jumping) classes. She also rides in the adult hunters and equitation at home.
With so much experience under her belt, Richardson has been no stranger to a scare or two along the way.
“I’ve fallen and been fallen on quite a few times; that’s the nature of the sport,” she said. “The worst injury I’ve had was a knee sprain from being fallen on by a horse.”
In addition to the inevitable safety risks, taking care of the horse, lessons, training, clothes, tack and show and travel fees make for an expensive sport.
Still, Richardson says there’s always a pay-off.
“I think the best was winning first in my class at Zone finals last year,” she said. “It was so exciting and it got me my ticket to Nationals. Going to Nationals was great too.”
When the water sports enthusiast isn’t competing, she’s practicing at Hazelwild Farm in Spotsylvania.
Senior teammate Lauren Campbell said Richardson has always been a key member of the UMW team.
“She contributes so much to the team both competitively and socially,” she said. “She helps all of our new and lower level riders do their hair for the horse show so it is perfect under their helmets. She always welcomes the team to her house for team dinners. She planned Krispy Kreme fundraising for the team.”
Richardson may be the team cheerleader, but she’s just as strong of a competitor. She is currently third in region for high point rider, behind by only five points.
As a rider, Richardson often competes with horses she’s never ridden with before. Responding to the horse appropriately, she says, can be a real challenge.
“It’s physically hard, but the mental part is what’s the most challenging because that’s harder to train for,” she said. “It’s hard to get everything right.”
Despite all the hard-work that’s involved, riding is something that will always be important to Richardson, who wants to go to architecture or interior design school after graduation.
“It’s a family thing and a culture, and it just becomes a part of your life,” she said.