Finding Yourself in College: Riding Teams

by Elaine Wehmhoff

Throughout my college career I have been a student at three different universities, so if there’s anything I’m used to by now, it’s adjusting. I started out at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO and decided to transfer when I came home that Christmas break. Since the deadline for UConn in the Spring had passed, I took a semester at Southern CT State before attending UConn in Fall of 2017. If there was anything I learned from being a student at two large public universities, it is that you need to find yourself in your school otherwise you can feel very, very lost.

Leaving behind the country home roads I grew to master, and the people around me who made me who I am, made me feel lost upon arriving to university. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I didn’t know anyone around me. Everything constant had suddenly fleeted…except for one thing: me. While everything else is changing in college, the best way to plant your feet can be staying true to yourself. What can you keep the same? Not to say that change is bad, or that you won’t change in school, because you will…but what can you do to bring yourself comfort?

Answering these questions for yourself can make the university feel tenfold smaller. When I was feeling lost  across the country, I knew that one thing still constant was my love for horses and riding. Knowing this, I sought out a riding program at CSU. I immediately signed up and rode once a week, maybe more if I so desired. While everything around me was changing, it felt right to have something that felt natural and felt like a little bit of home. To me, that’s what riding was. Every time I rode, I was given that connection of a horse and rider with which I was familiar and loved. It gave me something that I knew how to focus on, an outlet of sorts. When I was riding, I was able to forget for a moment, about everything that was new, daunting, and on my agenda. It gave me a place to feel at home while I was in a place with many new stressors. While signing up for one thing won’t stop you from missing your parents or pets, it will renew that sense of purpose and belonging that can feel unsteady upon arriving at a new place. When I transferred to UConn, I did the same thing and immediately looked up the riding program and found out they had several teams. I ended up joining the dressage team which as an eventer, I was already into. Now, I look back and can’t believe that a year of travels, adventures, memories, and best friends came simply out of some easy searches. 

(Author on right)

Now your next question might be, what if they don’t have what I am interested in? At Colorado State, they didn’t have an English riding team, so I ended up joining polo and trying something totally new, fun, and exciting. In addition, finding something related to your interests gives you immediate common ground with a whole new group of people. While giving this advice to a fellow student recently, he asked me, “I’m interested in beekeeping, do you think they have that?” I wondered if this would be the one that stumped me; did I have to bite my tongue? Sure enough, we looked it up, and a whole UConntact (club) page was displayed with an informative video on the UConn Beekeeping Club. So there you have it!

Rarefied interests aside, getting involved is seriously very important. Had it not been for my involvement these past years, my mental and physical health would have really suffered as I transitioned from place to place. Getting involved is the best possible way to make the university seem smaller. You develop a schedule, a familiarity with the people and resources for whatever you’re doing, and it really helps having something healthy and positive lining up alongside stressful academic life and classes. While going to large universities like UConn and CSU can make it hard to settle in, they also provide an immense collection of activities, clubs and organizations that appeal to the interests of every student. Even though college is an incredible experience, that will push and pull you in the best of ways, it can be hard and that is the reality of it. It isn’t natural to be absolutely deprived of everything you knew and had overnight; however, that’s what move in day feels like for some. While attending University will challenge and change you for the better, it is important to have a place where you feel “at home” or comfortable so that you have a healthy break from your stressors. While I love learning new things and being involved in my academics at UConn, I am more than just a student. In order to have a healthy balance, you need to restore a little “you” in your life at school, and the only way to do that is to engage yourself. Finishing an exam and heading up to Horsebarn Hill for my weekly lesson balances things out at a pace I can handle, a mix of new and old. Now try it for yourself!