Joan Copeland '89 - Team and IHSA Alumni Rider

Some women gain their first experience with a horse through the riding program at Smith College. For me, my time at Smith was an important stage in an ongoing journey that began when I was six months old. I don’t remember the first time I sat on a horse, but they have been part of my being since before memory.

I wasn’t just the nerdy smart girl who didn’t fit in, I was the nerdy smart girl who lived on a farm and rode horses and really didn’t fit in. I was always physically active and very strong, but never skilled in traditional sports. I hated phys ed class in school as I was one of the last students picked for a team and was ridiculed by some of my teachers. 

When I finally sat down to begin sorting through the piles of college viewbooks that began arriving after I took the PSATs, there were four basic requirements for higher education: a strong English program, a strong art program, Latin, and an equestrian program. Smith would never have survived the first cut if horses weren’t part of the picture.

Smith College empowers women. The college sends women the message that their minds, ideas, talents and skills are valuable, and offers them the freedom and encouragement to push boundaries, to do more and become more than they thought possible. Professors pushed me to write better, think harder, and be more creative. I met like-minded women who became my friends and I finally fit in. 

The riding team at Smith offered me the chance to be a valuable part of a TEAM and the opportunity to compete in a sport I loved and improve my skills. I rode every semester (except spring 1986 after I’d had knee surgery) and made the team my senior year. I was often a point rider in my division and qualified to ride at regionals. When the IHSA opened competition to alumnae, I drove from my home in Connecticut to ride in the shows and qualified for nationals twice, proudly representing Smith College and winning a treasured brown ribbon for 8th place in 1993.

My riding team jacket still hangs in the closet and a photo frame won at a show at Mount Holyoke sits on the shelf near my desk. I still own a horse and I ride six days a week. I wonder how many other college athletes are still pursuing excellence in their sport as they near 50?

The news that Smith College intends to close Fox Meadow Farm and demote the riding team to a club sport still shocks and disappoints me. I hear the message that my sport is no longer important, that my athletic skills are no longer valuable. I urge the college to reconsider. There are women riding at Smith now who have heard the same message and are undoubtedly questioning their decision to enroll in a school that would so quickly and thoughtlessly pull the rug out from under them. Smith held me to a higher standard—I expect the same in return.

- Joan Copeland, Smith College Class of 1989