By Lindsey Munar ’16 | August 3, 2020
“I learned how to slaughter, butcher, and make sausage… as a class. My sophomore year, I was collecting stallions and breeding mares… as a class.” An inside look into the life of a pre-vet student and dedicated rider on the Cal Poly Equestrian team. Class of 2017 graduate, Sydney Immel, has more than just human teammates. Her most important teammate is a horse weighing at least a thousand pounds and standing at 16 hands high. While Immel is in her third year at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, she is experiencing her first as a member of the Equestrian team. Immel is a Rookie B rider on the Western Show Team.
Immel and her teammates devote their hard work to horsemanship. Horsemanship entails the execution of maneuvers, smoothness, the geometry of the pattern, equitation (the properness of your seat and riding), and your bond with the horse.
Just like any other sport, the team practices day in and day out to master these skills. The competition aspect involves an interesting element of surprise. Riders learn the riding pattern on the day of the show. Most exciting, just twenty minutes before performing, the riders draw a random horse and are expected to show that horse to the best of their ability. More often than not,the rider has never been on that horse unless they have the home advantage. “It’s extremely stressful but it really shapes you into a better rider,” Immel discloses. “Every horse person knows the more horses you ride, the better you become.” Immel expresses she has been lucky to draw great horses but also has been very unlucky. Sometimes, unlucky means being thrown off. Thankfully, that has yet to happen to her.
“Giving medical care, exercising [the horses], feeding them, foaling them out, all of it makes me feel like I am where I am supposed to be.” Immel is fulfilled by her line of work, but more than that, she thrives from the challenges that come with working with these animals.
If not tending to her responsibilities of being on the Equestrian team, Immel is working at the Cal Poly Equine Unit, a student trainer for the Cal Poly Performance Horse sale, and a member of the Young Cattlemen’s Association. She is an Animal Science major on the pre-vet track. Needless to say, Immel is devoted to animals for most of her day, but she would not want to have it any other way. As an extension of her daily studies, her favorite experience has been her job at the Cal Poly Equine Unit. “Giving medical care, exercising [the horses], feeding them, foaling them out, all of it makes me feel like I am where I am supposed to be.” Immel is fulfilled by her line of work, but more than that, she thrives from the challenges that come with working with these animals. “We get all kinds of injuries and infections that we get to work on first hand with some of the best veterinarians in the nation. It sounds like I do a lot for them but really, they do a lot for me. I don’t think I would be half as sane as I am without them.”
Immel is thriving in her new home on the Central Coast. Cal Poly’s ‘learn by doing philosophy’ has influenced her education in a way that she expresses will pay dividends when she enters the professional realm. “This year, I have stayed up overnight at the Equine unit to help mares deliver their foals as well as start a two-year-old horse to be sold in our Performance Horse sale.” As an aspiring veterinarian, Immel reflects on these experiences as more than valuable for her potential career, and for her life in general. “Cal Poly just really has my heart. Once I plugged into the equine scene sophomore year, I have never once wanted to leave.”
During her time at VCHS, Immel was a 4-year varsity soccer player. She played as a defender throughout her career, riding wherever time permitted. Coincidentally, the two sports of riding and soccer drew a parallel for Immel. Past the substantial amount of dedication, Immel discovered a similarity between training her two-year-old horse, Brandy, and defending an opponent.
“You move a cow how you play defense,” she spilled. “You watch their hips and their eyes, when they stop you stop, when they move you move. If you want to get a cow to change directions, you cut them off, just as you would a forward coming at you with a ball.”
As unique as it is, this perspective worked for Immel to combine her two athletic worlds into one.
Immel is only in her first year of being a part of the Western Show team, but she has accomplished plenty in a short amount of time. Placing first at four of the shows and making it to the semi-finals on the Western Show team have been some of her highlights. She plans to gain residency in Oregon and apply to Oregon State’s vet school, but she is open to where her career takes her. In face of uncertainty, Immel is eager for her future, being that she is content with the route she has chosen. If she has learned any lesson since leaving VCHS, it is that you could have the straight A’s but still fail. “If I wanted a 4.0, I would have to give up everything else, and to me, that is not worth it.” Immel shares that she has met incredible people along the way and has devoted her effort to exactly what she wants to do for the rest of her life. “When I come out of college with my degree, I might not be the most stellar student, but I will be a well-rounded person that can get myself through the rest of whatever life throws at me. It is not about the numbers.”
From Sydney Immel to her VCHS community: If you are in the market for a horse, please come to the Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale next May! Thank you for all the love and support! P.S. I love you Mrs. Golden!