Her love of riding has led Jay's Natalie Marques to a chance to compete at Sacred Heart University.

We are all used to getting word of another John Jay student-athlete committing to play lacrosse here or baseball there. But there are other sports and other student-athletes that will represent Jay on the next level.

One is Natalie Marques, who will join the equestrian team at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, this fall.

“I chose Sacred Heart because I fell in love with the campus and the atmosphere,” Marques said. “The first time I visited campus was the end of September 2019. What impressed me the most about the school was all of the resources available to the students and the constant improvement on campus.”

Marques also entertained the idea of attending Fairfield University and Bucknell University, but Sacred Heart won out.

Marques began riding when her family moved to Katonah when she was a seventh-grader.

“My fried Morgan brought me to the barn and I instantly fell in love,” she said. “I took my first lesson at Starbuck Equestrian in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and I’m still riding there now.”

She went on, “What I love most about riding is having the ability to make a connection with an animal. The relationship between the rider and the horse is the most amazing connection in the world, in my opinion,” Marques said. “The different personalities could either clash with the rider or match so perfectly. It’s the best knowing that an animal that you can’t communicate with understands how you feel.”

At Sacred Heart, she said, “I won’t be riding only one horse. The school owns a handful of horses which get rotated through the team and each practice. Collegiate riding is different than club,” she explained, where one rides “at a barn and owns a horse. Say, my team and I go to UConn for a show. I would be randomly matched with one of their horses, one I’ve never ridden before.”

Marques participates in English riding.

“I show in the Hunter Division which judges the horse, as well as the Equitation Division which judges the rider,” she said. “In simplest terms, I go in a ring with jumps set out and complete the course.”

Helping prepare for her college season, Marques is practicing three times a week at Starbuck Equestrian.

There are 17 Division 1 college equestrian programs. The season runs each fall in October and November.

“While I was in high school, I didn’t compete very much because it is so expensive; my parents stopped paying for riding so I picked up a few jobs and was able to save enough for a couple shows and lessons,” Marques said. “I thank my parents for it every day, it taught me so much. When I do compete, I’ve shown at Old Salem Farm, Gardnertown Farm, Twin Lakes Farm, Fairfield County Hunt Club, Zephyr Farm and Stepping Stone Farm.”

Recruiting in equestrian is a bit different than baseball, lacrosse, football or basketball.

“I know that my coaches do go to events to scout,” Marques said. “I just did not get scouted, so my recruitment was a little bit different than most. I reached out to my coaches at the end of September during my Sports and American Society class. I mentioned my growing interest in the school and the title that SHUET (Sacred Heart University Equestrian Team) holds.”

A few hours later, Sacred Heart’s equestrian coach, Caitlin Ader, emailed her back with an invitation to an unofficial visit. “They had a questionnaire that I filled out and attached my highlight tape link. Everything went well, I stayed in touch with my coaches and they then asked me if I’d like to be a part of the team.”

Marques added, “November came and my NLI was signed.”

When she first started riding, a chance to ride in college was not a thought for Marques. However, as she continued to improve through high school, she began to think it was a possibility.

“I kept telling my parents that I could continue riding and get a potential scholarship for it,” she said. “I don't think they fully thought it was 100% possible for me given that I wasn’t showing like others and was only riding one day a week, if that.”

Marques is planning on majoring in exercise science at Sacred Heart on a pre-med track.

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