Mercyhurst's Equestrian Club goes strong despite only two members

Contributed photo: Haley Mascellino, left, and Caitlin Birmingham, right, are the lone members of the Mercyhurst Equestrian Club.Contributed photo: Haley Mascellino, left, and Caitlin Birmingham, right, are the lone members of the Mercyhurst Equestrian Club.When you get thrown off the horse, you must get back on.

In the case of Haley Mascellino and Caitlin Birmingham, the lone members of this year’s Mercyhurst Equestrian Club, they never had a horse, a stable or a place to ride. All they have is the desire to compete and a school that will support them.

Haley Mascellino and Caitlin Birmingham grew up in suburban Pittsburgh. The two girls had the passion for riding horses but never had the resources.

“I have always wanted to be on an [equestrian] team, but growing up in Pittsburgh, I never got a chance to learn the ropes, let alone ride a horse,” said Mascellino, a junior biology major. “Also, I want to be a veterinarian and this is a good way for me to study the ailments and treatment of large animals like horses.”

Birmingham, a freshman, comes from a similar background.

“I am in the same boat as Haley,” she said, “I grew up close to her in Pittsburgh, and I never got the chance to ride or compete. Now that I’m here at Mercyhurst, I can do that.”

Mary Ann Owoc, Ph.D., of the archaeology and anthropology department, founded the Mercyhurst Equestrian Club in 2004. The club’s activities include taking lessons, trail rides, fund raising, field trips, volunteer activities and intercollegiate competition.

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) is the group that hosts all riding events.

“Any college student should be able to ride and compete regardless of financial status or riding level,” the IHSA wrote in its mission statement, making it a perfect fit for Mascellino and Birmingham.

The IHSA sponsors many stables throughout the tri-state area including Brenric Stables in Edinboro, where Mascellino and Birmingham take lessons and train every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Brenric Stables is also the home of Halli Bidwell, who serves as instructor for Mascellino and Birmingham. She also accompanies the two women to every competition.

“She has been very helpful,” Mascellino said. “She makes sure we are ready for each competition and (she) has a high reputation with the IHSA.”

The organization picks the venue for each competition and provides horses at random for each rider to make things fair among the competing men and women.

“Whether you place or not depends on your ability to make the horse cooperate with you,” Birmingham says. “Some horses have a lot of attitude and can give you a hard time.

“Some horses are ex-race horses and ex-Olympic Equestrian horses which are highly skilled and easier to work with. It all depends on the skill of the rider.”

Mascellino and Birmingham compete in English saddle competitions, a formal set of events in contrast to the more hectic and fast-paced Western saddle competitions.

The pair’s last competition was a weekend event in Reedsville. Birmingham took fourth place both days, earning six points, and Mascellino took sixth place on Saturday and fifth place on Sunday, earning three points.

Mascellino and Birmingham invite all Mercyhurst students who are interested in competing or simply being around horses to venture out and take a lesson.