Jess Peláez '05J - Varsity Team Open Rider

Jess riding in the Mongol Derby. Photo Credit: Richard Dunwoody

Jess riding in the Mongol Derby. Photo Credit: Richard Dunwoody

I arrived at Smith after a year and a half without riding. My parents had sold my beloved first horse since they thought horses were "just a phase," and my devastation hadn't fully subsided when I became aware of the Varsity Team. I had been recruited by nearly 200 schools for track and field, but decided that my teenage rebellious streak needed airing. I signed up to try out for the Varsity Team at the Open level, which is the highest. I knew that if I made the team at the Open level, it would be the validation of my equestrian dreams that I had so desperately longed for. 

I still remember the rock solid ball of nerves resting in the pit of my stomach as I gripped the reins. My steed for tryouts was Rojoe, a feisty, quick paint horse who was just barely larger than pony-size, but with a jump that could bring life to the dead and the turning ability of a Porsche. I never remember my jumping rounds (I hold my breath - maybe that alters memory), but I do recall my inner disbelief when Sue Payne informed me that I had made the team. I was a Varsity athlete in college, competing in a sport where I had a shot at international, even Olympic glory in the same event as men. 

Without the accessibility of the on-campus equestrian facility, the camaraderie of the Varsity Team, and the overall strength of Smith's equestrian program, I would not be the fearless rider I am today. I have raced horses across Mongolia in the world's longest horse race. I have saved so-called dangerous racehorses from slaughterhouse kill pens on 2 continents and painstakingly retrained them for new careers. 

I have been thrown off, broken my back, and gotten back in the saddle 7 weeks later. I have had my head stepped on, my ribs cracked, my foot crushed, my fingers broken, and more. Horse riding teaches resilience in a way that almost no other sport can, because the partnership between human and horse defies logic, words, and even reason. 

Smith College has a tremendous asset for women, the college, and the entire Northampton community literally in its backyard, and it is inexplicably willing to throw it all away. Why? To save a few dollars? To pad someone's resume? Who knows. What I do know is that the ghosts of Smith riders from the last 90 years are shedding tears for the opportunities that will be lost should Smith follow through with this atrocious and ill-advised decision. As Smithies, we should all weep for those who will never reap the benefits of a barn they can walk to.

The saying goes, "There's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man." I propose we amend that to, "There's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the heart and soul of Smith."

- Jess Peláez, Smith College Class of 2005J