October 20, 2017 | By Chuck Carlson
It’s a long way from the Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville to the pastoral equestrian setting of Albion College. But for Alicia Espinoza, ’20, it was a trip worth making.
“I was always interested in riding,” said Espinoza, who is double majoring in Spanish and psychology with a concentration in neuroscience. “Unfortunately there are not too many opportunities in downtown Chicago.”
But she’s getting that opportunity as a member of Albion College’s equestrian team. She is part of the hunt seat team as a beginning walk/trot competitor. Ironically, in the world of equestrian, she competes last and the points she earns can decide a competition.
And in the team’s season-opening competition last weekend, Espinoza, now in her second season with the team, finished second in the division against Western Michigan University.
“She’s come along really well,” said Albion hunt seat coach Randi Gardner. “She probably fell off the horse two times (Espinoza says three) the first few times she tried it, but she kept coming back.”
Now it is a part of Espinoza's college experience, and one she’d never trade.
Born and raised in Chicago, Espinoza has also lived in Texas and has always been intrigued by riding, especially a Mexican style known as Escaramuzas, which blends equestrian skills, Mexican heritage, music and costumes.
Espinoza attended Golder College Prep, a school in Chicago’s prestigious Noble Network of Charter Schools, where she played volleyball and soccer and was involved in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
But she remained curious about equestrian. So when she visited Albion she made a point to find Gardner and to look into the program, even though she’d never ridden before.
“It was beautiful,” Espinoza said of the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center. “I’ve never seen an equestrian center so big.”
Then, as a first-year student, Espinoza was convinced by her residence hall advisor—equestrian team captain Cayla Dupuis, ’17—to give it a shot.
“When Alicia came here, I don’t think she planned to be part of the team,” Gardner said with a laugh. “But we kind of roped her into it. And Cayla took her under her wing. I knew Alicia was intrigued, and she’s made a ton of progress. She’s come a long way.”
And as she has continued to ride, Espinoza said she has received constant help and support from other, more experienced team members.
“They’ve been very helpful,” she said. “They’ve been great.”
As for her family, she said they’ve been supportive if a bit bemused.
“My dad thought I’d do it for a semester and give it up, but I’ve enjoyed my time,” she said. “My mom has always been one of those people to say, ‘If you want to do something, do it.’”
Now, Espinonza tries to find as much spare time as she can to ride, usually with her favorite horses Redford or James, because she knows she has a lot to learn. And she hopes to continue with it as a hobby after she leaves Albion.
“For me, riding is more of a stress reliever,” she said. “I don’t focus on anything but riding.”