After looking at various art schools, I was quickly sure Pratt was the right choice for me. I wanted to be in New York City, the American epicenter of art, but wanted to experience a campus life. Pratt offers both. Looking through the faculty list, I saw current working artists whose professional work I follow and was so excited to potentially be taught by them. The studio spaces for fine arts seniors were incredible, and the curriculum matched what I wanted for my education. I was able to take science and liberal arts classes that directly related to and furthered my artistic practice. Luckily, Pratt was what made most sense for me in terms of my merit scholarship as well.
How long have you been riding and what does it mean to you? And what role has riding played in your life?
I was nine years old when I took my first riding lesson. My parents and I had just moved to Bangalore, India, and this was a very lonely transition for me. Many kids would ride at a stable nearby our house, and although horse riding had never crossed my mind prior, I decided to join in an effort to make new friends. From that point on I was hooked. I discovered the ability to make a connection that I had never experienced before. A connection that did not require words (I was struggling with adjusting to a language barrier), but rather a new way of communicating with another being. I remember the name and face of every friend, human or horse, I made, as well as all of our adventures, whether it be monkeys tormentingly jumping on the back of our ponies or hunting for scorpions in the stable isles. My family continued moving around the world, and I continued discovering new stables. Horses felt like the only stable constant in my life, I could take with me wherever I went.
You are one of our team’s founding riders. Can you share with us how this team came together?
I had caught wind of volunteering for Seaside 4 Therapeutic Riding at Jamaica Bay Riding Academy through Professor Kathryn Cullen-DuPont, and knew I had to go. Within the same week I was introduced to a fellow freshman equestrian, Emily Oldenquist, and asked her to join me. We went and had an incredibly emotional day. Being around horses after time apart reignited our passion and we could not stop entertaining the idea of having a riding team at Pratt. We knew that the only person who could help us with this would be Prof. (and now team Faculty Advisor & Assistant Coach) Cullen-DuPont, and after some convincing, she agreed to begin what would soon turn into years of hard work alongside Jane DaCosta, who is now our Head Coach. We started out as a club our first two years, and then became a varsity athletic team, but convincing an art school to allow its students to competitively ride horses was truly no easy feat. This took coordination with all different departments of the school, during which I gained some great professional skills. Finding other riders to join was the best part, because we quickly formed a family and made everything worth it.
This team is like a family. Can you share one experience with them you treasure?
One thing that I love about our Pratt Equestrian family is that we are all artists in different ways, and we are all so unique. Everyone brings something different to the table, and we all learn from one another. A very special moment for me was when Ayse (the current team Co-Captain) cantered for the first time. Ayse, a fellow Turkish American, had joined the team having ridden a horse only once before, and watching the moment she first cantered made me feel euphoric. Attending our first IHSA competition was also very special, that all our hard work had brought us to this moment where we were holding our own while competing against such talented individuals from other colleges.
You have been an active Seaside volunteer for a number of years now. Could you share with us your experience and what role service plays for the team?
Seaside 4 Therapeutic Riding holds a very special place in my heart. Being able to watch a student grow as a rider, improve on physical and mental aspects of their life via horse riding, is beautiful. Seaside caters each lesson according to the student’s needs, to make sure they are getting what is right for them out of their lesson. Through this, I was able to learn so many different ways of teaching because no student is the same. Each Pratt Equestrian team member is required to go twice a semester to volunteer, but what is great about the team is that I do not feel they see this as a requirement or chore. Each of us are so excited to go, to not only help other riders grow but to better ourselves as equestrians as well. There may have never been a team without Seaside
How do you think riding has shaped you as an individual, personally and professionally?
Riding is a sport that requires serious commitment. Commitment to your equipment, safety, horse, fellow riders, athletic development and mental health. It makes you conscious of choices in your daily life to ultimately be successful. Within my individual experience, it taught me how to listen to my body and intuition, how to form meaningful connections, and to gain confidence. These were important personal goals that I wanted to achieve. I am currently still working with Jane DaCosta’s non-profit Metropolitan Equestrian Team for grades 3-12, as a part of the grants committee, and this has been such a great opportunity for me. Our team has been able to make new connections within the equestrian world which opens doors to a wealth of new professional opportunities both equestrian and artistically related.
Can you also tell us a bit about the job you secured after graduating from Pratt, and how you think your Pratt education prepared you for that?
I found out during a Pratt Equestrian event that I had gotten my job, and was so happy to share this moment with my team. I found this job through Pratt Pro, our job database. I work for a company to create and execute finishes with venetian/decorative plaster, precious metal leafing, paint and or/glaze. I love my job because I’m able to create art all day. I work either on sites or in our warehouses/studios. My job is extremely physical, as I’m climbing scaffolds and using my whole body to create large scale heavy artwork directly on walls or ceilings. Pratt prepared me in a number of ways. I have great professional workplace skills which I use when speaking with clients, designers or contractors. I am up to date on current events in the art world, as well as having a firm understanding of the importance of art history. I have great technical skills which allowed me to execute artworks with excellent precision and attention to detail. I am able to problem solve with regards to our materials because I learned about the scientific components of materials at Pratt. I feel prepared to tackle anything that comes my way at the workplace because I am confident in the tool belt I was able to create at Pratt.
Where do you think your experiences as a rider can take you in the future? And what are some skills that you've acquired from your many years being an equestrian?
Athletically my balance, fine motor skills, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination and cardiovascular health all improve with riding. This form of exercise prepared me for the job I currently have, but more importantly helps me stay happy, even when I may feel at my worst. I have learned about teamwork, responsibility, attention to detail and even agricultural skills. These are all skills I use in my daily life. Competing has prepared me for high pressure situations. Being a Co-Founder and Co-Captain to this team gave me professional business skills that I never knew I could learn, and ultimately gave me the confidence to become the Undergraduate Commencement Speaker for my year. A rider gains a very well-rounded skill set because of the many different components that go into the sport (from caring for your horse, to working with your team, etc.). Riding has shaped me as a person in so many aspects of my life because it taught me to be confident in all types of difficulties I may endure. Riding has and will continue to take me places, whether it be professionally, athletically or otherwise.
What advice can you give to others as they join the team?
If you are looking to join Pratt’s team, be prepared to join a close knit family. We support one another, whether it be academic, personal or athletic related. We take pride in being there for one another, and always work to better ourselves. My advice is to join if you share the strong commitment and passion we have to horses, art and each other. The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association has an educational model with a place for riders of various levels, from the walk/trot flatwork of Introductory to the most challenging fence courses of the Open and national awards to aim for. You do not have to be a seasoned equestrian, but you do have to want to be there and work to progress. And stay calm during your first show, the horses will pick up on your energy, try to listen to some chill music, maybe eat a banana.
Could you give us one fun fact about horses or riding?
Horses express their mood through their eyes, nostrils and ears; therefore also communicate emotion with their face. So you can always tell when they are loving you or giving you some attitude.
If you're a high-school equestrian interested in a top college of architecture, art, and design, please contact Kathryn Cullen-DuPont at email@example.com.
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