Westtown School Equestrian Riders
Matt Starr ’18
When did you start riding and what attracted you to the sport?
I started riding in 3rd grade after a friend from Westtown invited me to come with her to her barn. I had a lot of fun that day, scheduled a lesson with her trainer for the following week, and have been riding ever since.
Can you tell us a little bit about your ranking and equestrian accomplishments?
I am currently ranked 31st nationally in the 3’6” Amateur Owner Hunter 35 and Under Division. As the name suggests, this division consists of riders between the ages of 18 and 35, who own the horses on which they compete, and show on courses of jumps that are three-and-a-half feet tall. This is my first year competing in this division. Previously, I competed in the 3’6” Junior Hunter division. This division has jumps of the same specifications but all riders are under 18 years of age. One highlight of my Junior Hunter career was qualifying for The Devon Horse Show, which invites the top 20 rider and horse combinations in the country to compete, and placing fifth in the Junior Hunter Stakes Class. Another accomplishment from my Junior Hunter Career was being named Champion of the 3’6” Junior Hunter division at Zone 2 Finals. This horse show invites the top riders in our zone of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey to compete in a year-end championship show.
What does your weekly riding schedule look like?
I generally ride 6 days each week. I petitioned the Athletic Department at Westtown to grant me an independent co-curricular in order for me to ride. Independent athletic credits are given to students who pursue sports that are not offered at the school or who are part of a higher level team in an off-season. I have a car on campus so that I can go to the barn every day after school. I usually leave around 3:45 pm and return to school at about 7:00 pm. I show or work for my barn most weekends throughout the year.
I understand you also have many academic and leadership accomplishments. Can you share some of them?
I was Day Student Chief Prefect (Dorm Head) my sophomore year and continued to be a Prefect (Dorm Head) for my floor in my junior and senior years. These are elected positions which require a faculty recommendation and interview. I am the Jewish Student Union co-head this year. I have received academic distinction every semester of my high school career with the exception of second semester freshman year. I am second chair first violin in Westtown’s Symphony Orchestra. And, I was also a National Merit Scholarship Corporation Commended Student.
How have you balanced school with your riding schedule?
Balancing my academics and riding has been the most challenging aspect of my time in high school. I take a very heavy course load of primarily advanced classes. This course load, coupled with the fact that I often miss the first half hour of study hall due to the time I spend at the barn every day, requires a good amount of balancing. I travel to horse shows most weekends and miss almost two weeks’ worth of school each February to compete at HITS Ocala, a winter show circuit in North-Central Florida. Although these factors would seem to set me up for failure, I have found that the busyness of my schedule has actually helped me improve my time management skills. I have become more efficient in getting my work done as I have spent more time learning to balance these two aspects of my life. My schedule might require me to get up at 5:30 in the morning to finish the homework and I am proud to say, I have never missed an assignment and rarely need to request extensions.
Tell us about a risk you took in order to get where you are, or an obstacle you faced along the way?
My biggest obstacle along the way to where I am in the sport today has definitely been the financial disparity between myself and the majority of the people against whom I compete. Unlike most of my competitors, I cannot afford to pay a professional to ride my horse every day. The professional at my barn is nice enough to ride my horse if she is ever being particularly uncooperative, but this only happens maybe once every few months, and is a far cry from the help most other people in my division receive. This factor has definitely made getting my horse to perform at her current level a much longer and more arduous process. Additionally, I work for my barn as a groom to help offset some of the costs associated with owning a show horse. Consequently, I work 12 to 16 hour days whenever I am at a horse show while my competitors, for the most part, just have to show up and get on their horses. Even though my relative lack of funds has made it a more difficult journey, I would not classify the experience of working hard to attain my success as a negative. I am grateful for it; it has, without a doubt made me a stronger rider and better worker in and out of the arena.
Is there a faculty member at Westtown who has influenced you?
The faculty member at Westtown who has influenced me the most is my advisor, Kim Culcasi. She has been a constant source of motivation, friendship, and advice throughout my time at Westtown. She is a teacher but also a friend and mentor to me. I am sure that she will have a presence in my life beyond my Westtown years.
What advice would you have for young equestrians?
I would advise young equestrians that it is important to always remember what brought you to this sport. There are going to be bad days for everyone. It’s all about how you use the experiences of those bad days. You should take them, learn from them, and apply them to your future riding endeavors while maintaining sight of why you originally became invested in the sport.