If successful, it would be a first in the polo team’s history.

The competition was tough — UofL had to get past the University of Pennsylvania, to which it had previously lost. That done, it then faced Michigan State University on its home field — all while being without six of the nine horses from its string.

“We were pretty pumped up going into the game. Losing was not an option,” said Lauren Poole, a member of the varsity polo team.

Losing may not have been an option, but winning was not assured. The lead bounced back and forth: When one team scored, the other team answered. Play was intense and physical. A UofL player knocked an MSU player from her horse. In the end, a last-minute penalty against MSU was the deciding factor. UofL got the ball for a penalty shot. MSU was unable to score the tying point. UofL emerged with the first tournament victory in its nine-year history and advanced to southeast regional tournament play.

Most people — including those on campus — never knew about the competition or the team’s triumph over adversity.

That’s largely because the UofL Equestrian Team, an umbrella group with teams that compete in four different disciplines, is a recognized student organization and not an NCAA-sanctioned sport. Each team, however, takes its sport as seriously as if it were. Whether polo, hunt, western or saddle seat, they clock countless hours practicing and refining their skills. Getting to practice isn’t a walk across campus, either. It involves driving as far away as Shelbyville and Prospect, Ky., and Lanesville, Ind., where their horses are stabled.

While the teams receive some Student Government Association funding as an RSO, they also have to work hard raising money to cover the expenses involved with their sport by hosting horse shows and exhibitions.

The polo team’s spring break win was just one of the Equestrian Team’s high points so far this year.

In February, both the hunt seat and western teams earned several individual blue ribbons and placed second in team high point competition in the final Intercollegiate Horse Show Association show of the regular season.

Freshman Madeleine Kemp earned high-point rider honors in the equitation division at the same show. She did it in head-to-head competition with three other riders — two of whom compete two levels above her in that discipline.

Equitation tests a rider’s horsemanship — both her ability to control a horse and her form, through a variety of difficult tasks. The rider is judged, not the horse. At IHSA shows, the main equitation test is the rider’s ability to adapt to the horse that she is given. Riders are assigned a horse other than their own and have little time to get used to it before competition begins.

Kemp said she “was extremely surprised” when the announcer called her name as high-point winner. “It was an awesome feeling to know that I did my best. It’s true. Hard work does pay off.”

Seasons are over for polo, hunt and western riders, and the saddle seat team is preparing for the end of its season in April. Still, each team continues to log many hours of practice each week. They already are looking forward to what the 2013–14 season might bring.

(Editor’s Note, April, 23, 2013: The saddle seat team took top honors at the Intercollegiate Saddle Seat Riding Association’s spring horse show at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington April 12. UofL’s team won the 2013 Cumulative Year-end Championship Team Award at the event.

Two UofL students also won the state riding association’s Rider of the Year awards. Kristen Smith was named champion senior and Jenny McGowan, reserve champion senior.)