Netta-Lee Lax is a thrill seeker.
What the Medill sophomore does, and has done since she was old enough to walk, produces more deaths and injuries than any other Olympic sport. During a lifetime of riding, Lax has seen more than her own share of injuries, including a concussion and broken arm she suffered in the second grade. But she never stopped. Because she’s a rider, and equestrian sport is her passion.
Lax has competed in nearly every riding category since elementary school, from dressage to performing hunters, jumping, equitation and eventing.
At the beginning of this year, though, Lax set aside her own competitive goals and achievements to take the reins as president of Northwestern’s equestrian team, a club sport that sends its competitors to ride against varsity teams.
Facing a set of major challenges, including constant concerns over funding and transportation (the team needs to drive 45 minutes to an affiliated barn just to practice), Lax sought to rejuvenate a struggling team by finding a new way to appeal to prospective riders.
“We decided to represent ourselves in a totally different way,” Lax says. “We wanted to market ourselves to try and make sure everyone knew who we were and that everyone was welcome to join.”
That’s why the team redesigned its website, launched pages on Facebook and YouTube and started a Twitter account called @NUEquestrian. As a result of the new advertising push, the team nearly doubled from 15 members last year to 26 today.
Part of the team competes in quarterly shows at varying degrees of skill and difficulty, while others are in the group just to learn how to ride. Weinberg freshman Jenna Katz had never ridden a horse on her own before she found Lax and her fellow equestrians at September’s ASG Activities Fair.
“It was something I’d wanted to try since I was little, and I figured college is the time to try new things, so I just went for it,” Katz says. “And so far, it’s been amazing. Everyone’s been supporting me so much, and I really feel myself improving.”
The club’s sudden surge of new members, however, has faced Lax and her leadership team with the challenge of maintaining funding. Calling equestrianism “one of the most expensive sports outside of school,” Lax says that the $2,000 annual budget the Athletics Department provides the team is far too little to operate on.
“We have to pay for use and upkeep of horses, a lot of equipment, transportation to get to competitions and hotels to stay at once we get there,” Lax says. “A lot of our funding comes from concessions sales, but we constantly have to think of new ideas to raise money.”
But for Lax, the endless work that goes into keeping the team afloat is worth the opportunity to go ride every once in a while.
“There’s no therapy like riding a horse and really bonding with it — horses are really intuitive and give you a kind of unconditional love you won’t find in most humans,” she says. “Riding is an experience that’s hard to share with people who haven’t done it. It’s calming and thrilling at the same time.”