School work, riding a tough challenge for dedicated equestrian

Story posted June 28, 2013 in News by Sabrina Higgins

“Horse crazy” is the phrase that Kristin Sunder, 19, uses to describe herself when being introduced to new people.

Sunder hails from Hazleton, Pa., a town located about two hours from Penn State University, where she is now a student. She says that she has just always liked horses ever since she was a child.

“I’ve earned around 30 ribbons,” says Sunder. Her bedroom at school is proof of that. At one point, they all hung on her wall, but Sunder says that they are always falling down. Half of them lie on the ground and she explains that she is too lazy to hang them back up again because she knows they will just fall down again.

Now that Sunder is a college student, she says that it is a challenge to balance school work and riding. Sunder is a proud member of Penn State’s Equestrian Team and is majoring in chemical engineering.

When she was in first grade, she says her parents got her a toy horse for Christmas that she could sit on and that made realistic noises like neighing and clopping. The next step in her obsession was collecting books from “The Thoroughbred Series,” written by Joanna Campbell, when she was in second grade. By the time middle school ended, Sunder says she had collected and read all 72 books.

Despite her love for horses, Sunder says her parents did not allow her to start riding lessons until the summer before fifth grade because they thought it was dangerous and expensive. She says her parents hoped it was just a phase she would grow out of.

Because riding as a whole is an expensive hobby, Sunder says she used to work at Deer Path Riding Stables in White Haven, Pennsylvania in exchange for lessons. She recalls her instructor jokingly calling her the “barn rat”.

On a Sunday afternoon, Sunder shared her thoughts and feelings on her struggle to keep her life in balance. She sat in a stiff chair in an empty classroom and answered all questions thoroughly. She smiled throughout much of the interview and her big blue eyes kept direct contact. The grey sweatpants that she wore and dark circles under her eyes hinted at the never-ending exhaustion that haunts her throughout the school year.

Sunder explains that she never really gets enough sleep and that her goal to do well in school and become a better rider does not allow for much down time. She says that sometimes her life is very stressful due to massive amounts of homework and the many responsibilities associated with the equestrian team. She says all the effort she has to put into school and riding practice can be a pain.

“Riding is a good way to unwind and it’s a great stress reliever,” says Sunder. “It’s a way for me to take a breather from the rest of the world.”

Kate McAndrew, a sophomore officer of the Penn State Equestrian Team, says that Sunder is one of the most dedicated people she knows. “She’s always there, enthusiastic and ready to help,” says McAndrew about Sunder’s dedication to the team.

 The team has a current total of 84 members of all different riding levels. It was formed in 1971 and lessons have taken place at Eastwood Farms since its creation. The team is part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and is well-known for its size, history of winning, and fierce competitiveness.

The coach of the equestrian team, Malinda Grice, is a petite woman with a big personality.

“She oozes intimidation and is really tough,” says Sunder. During lessons, Sunder says Grice is very harsh in her critique of the team members and that everything must be done Grice’s way.

At the Penn State Equestrian Team meeting on March 27 in the Agricultural Science & Industries Building, Grice was a commanding presence. She wore a no-nonsense turtleneck sweater and firmly stressed the importance of team responsibilities. But despite her serious demeanor, she cracked a joke that had the roomful of 50 people laughing.

Eastwood Farms is six miles away from campus and consists of two barns and a farmhouse. On Thursday, April 11, lessons were held at a small indoor practice ring attached to one of the barns.

When at the barn, Sunder concentrated completely on her lesson tasks. As she silently tacked up her assigned horse, Jewel, she was attentive to her every move. After Sunder finished readying the horse, she led Jewel across the sawdust-covered floor and into the ring. Sunder used a stepstool to mount her horse and then joined the other girls in her lesson group.

Grice had the riders practiced together first, but then had them each practice transitions individually in front of the group. Throughout the lesson Grice spewed a continuous stream of constructive criticism. Sunder took every comment into account and adjusted her position and actions accordingly after each one.

Dues cost $500 per semester and include 12 weekly riding lessons with Grice. Sunder has lessons on Thursdays from 4:00-5:00 p.m. with five other team members.

Besides dues, Sunder says that riding clothes are also very expensive. She says that Malinda is very picky about her riders wearing only the most prestigious brands. The average riding ensemble (including a helmet, jacket, shirt, britches, gloves, and boots) costs upward of $1,100, says Sunder. She says that she only owns a shirt, jacket and boots, but that the teammates often borrow from each other. Sunder says she always borrows britches, gloves, and a helmet.

Chelsea Reynolds, 19, a friend of Sunder’s and sophomore at Penn State, says, “It’s awesome to see someone who loves something so much.” Reynolds met Sunder about a year ago and says that Sunder is in heaven when she talks about barns and horses.

Reynolds also says that Sunder is a very difficult person to make plans with because she is always so busy. “I really don’t know how she does it,” says Reynolds about the insane amount of responsibilities that Sunder stays on top of.

Vagisha Pandey, another one of Sunder’s friends, says, “Kristin is bubbly and happy all the time.” “Even though she is busy a lot,” says Pandey, “she is always peppy and smiling, especially after a lesson.”

Sunder plans to stay on the equestrian team for the rest of her stay at Penn State. “I like being able to say I’m part of the equestrian team,” she says. “Even though it’s an extra expense and extra responsibility, I think it’s worth it.”