This column intends to spotlight student athlete-artists from each of SCAD’s sports teams, no matter how well-established or accomplished. This week’s piece features Tess Mroczka, a member of SCAD Savannah’s nationally recognized equestrian team who won their third-straight IHSA Collegiate Cup National Championship earlier this month.
It’s difficult for me to recall the last time I rode a horse; I’d say it’s probably been four years (and that’s an incredibly generous guess), and I think said horse wandered off the trail and into the bushes. However, make no mistake, I still gush over these creatures. They always display a majestic durability, a distilled wildness that makes them seem almost human when you look at them, particularly directly in the eyes.
Tess Mroczka, a third-year graphic design student from Virginia Beach, Virginia, understands this sentiment to a greater degree because she is much more proficient at riding than I am and also shares an extremely special bond with her horses.
Mroczka currently competes in the Novice level for the SCAD Savannah equestrian team. When Mroczka and her fellow riders recently competed and won their third consecutive IHSA Collegiate Cup National Championship earlier this May, she rode for the Bees in the Novice over-fences division.
“Just for some background, there are six different divisions to compete in on the team,” Mroczka explained to me. “There is walk trot, beginner walk trot canter, advanced walk trot canter, novice, intermediate, and open.”
The roster for the equestrian team includes roughly 65 male and female riders, according to Mroczka. This season’s IHSA win marks the fourth national championship for the Bees. SCAD’s team is also the second equestrian team in the history of the IHSA to win the National Championship three years in a row.
Mroczka said she has been riding since she was 4 years-old. “So for seventeen years now,” she said.
“It all started when I was looking at pictures in a magazine and saw a girl with braided pigtails jumping over a fence on a pony,” Mroczka said. “I pointed at the picture, looked at my mom and said, ‘I want to do that.’ I then started taking lessons at a local western farm. After about a year, I switched to riding English and it just stuck from there.”
Years after she rode her first horse, Mroczka commenced her college application process, and she knew from the start she wanted a school with a good equestrian team.
“That was my top priority since I wasn’t too sure as to what I wanted to do,” Mroczka said. “It was between SCAD, Findlay, and Brown in the end. If I went to Findlay, I would have studied equestrian studies or marine biology at Brown. Ultimately, I went with SCAD because I knew the team was starting to get a name for itself and it just seemed like the best fit.”
For Mroczka, a typical day training is completely different from the schedule of a competition. She said she will start with the training, and that normally, every rider rides two days a week either on Monday’s and Wednesday’s or Tuesday’s and Thursday’s.
“The lessons last an hour, but we have to be at the barn thirty minutes prior to tack up the horse and usually thirty minutes to an hour after to put all the tack away and hose down the horse,” Mroczka said. “When we aren’t riding, we have 6 a.m. workouts on either Tuesday or Wednesday for an hour. The team splits the workout days in half because there is so many of us.”
The team also has yoga for an hour on Monday evenings at 6 p.m. Mroczka said it is highly encouraged to workout outside of scheduled times to keep in shape, but for competitions, training is slightly different.
“For regular horse shows, regionals, and zones, the riders competing have to ride every day of the week, Monday through Saturday, before the competition,” Mroczka said. “Yoga and workouts stay the same. For Nationals, riders usually have to ride every day, Monday through Saturday, a month before the show. Time does vary sometimes.”
Because the equestrian team is one of the most recognized and celebrated sports teams at SCAD’s Savannah campus, Mroczka said most people she talks to are familiar with or know the university has an equestrian team.
“The reactions I get do vary,” Mroczka said. “Usually it’s, ‘Oh cool,’ or, ‘Nice, I’ve ridden a horse once.’ Nothing that is too exciting.”
Returning to the topic of riding and a rider’s relationship with his/her horse, Mroczka described her favorite part about riding as the escape it offers.
“I spend anywhere from two to four hours at the barn during regular practices,” Mroczka said. “Being there is a great way to relax and not think about any homework. The interaction between a horse is soothing and takes away any levels of stress, at least for me. For non-equestrians, horses offer the same happiness and ‘ahh’ moment as dogs do when coming home and seeing them after a long day. They’re a companion animal for sure.”
When asked if she notices different personalities or habits for each horse at the barn, Mroczka laughed and said, “Oh gosh yes.”
“Every horse is different, just like every person is different,” Mroczka said. “They are 1,200-pound animals that have minds of their own. Some are packers, where all you do is steer them and they take care of you. Others get sassy when you add too much leg, some take off when you pull too much in their mouth. And then you get the ones who jump and spook at the wind moving or a shadow on the ground.”
Mroczka said she finds horses to be silly sometimes but also relatively easy to read with enough time spent on and around them.
“They’re funny animals,” she said. “But they are also predictable, in the sense that once you find out the horses’ quirks, you’ll know what they are capable of and can predict what they will do. Some will always spook at shadows. Some will try to bite you while tacking up. It’s always fun seeing their personalities come out.”