“A horse doesn’t know if you’re rich or if you’re poor,” says Natasha V. “Tash” McCarthy. As the new head coach of the College of Charleston’s equestrian program, she’s eager to dispel the notion that competitive riding is the purview of the privileged. Riders, after all, are exceptional whether or not they are born with a silver spoon.

What, then, does it take to get a horse to canter or gallop or jump? McCarthy explains that it is the quality of communication between horse and rider that can make or break a performance.

“A rider has to get into the horse’s shoes,” she says, adding that along with this empathy comes accountability. “Good riders take the blame, rather than placing it on the horse.”

Since team members are assigned different horses at each competition, they also must adapt to what a particular horse needs. “When you compete at a horse show, you literally have to draw out of a hat and pick one of the horses on the fly, get on with no practice and go perform.”

Last August, when McCarthy took the reins from longtime head coach Bob Story following his retirement, one of her first decisions was to hold tryouts, including for its current members. She looked for attributes such as personality and a work ethic, as well as intuition, confidence, focus, strength and smarts. “I also looked for riders who can use their own nerves to their benefit, not detriment,” she says; things like channeling an adrenaline rush for positive results, for example.

McCarthy was wowed by one tryout after another, giving credit to the team’s recruitment presence in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. She also notes the infectious energy and standards of Athletics Director Matt Roberts: “He wanted to see an already awesome team explode into higher levels.”

Team selected, the coach got the riders up and running in their new home at the White Horses Boarding and Training Facility, the 24-acre and 24-stall facility she owns and operates with her husband, Mike, in Huger, S.C.

But no silver spoon was involved in her expert dream-team building. Raised by a single mother in Maryland, McCarthy discovered riding by way of her older sister. By her teen years, she was engaging in some serious scrap and hustle in order to ride, borrowing horses and forever figuring out how to get from one competition to the next.

That passion parlayed into an equestrian scholarship at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., where she competed while earning a degree in communications. By then, she was hooked on horses and intent on making it a career. Soon she was competing and working within the hunter/jumper industry, eventually accepting a position at Tuxbury Farm in Charleston. This led to purchasing White Horses and to her new role there for the College.

Thus far, McCarthy’s level playing field is proving to be the perfect spot to launch the team to great achievement, and the riders have already swooped up numerous blue ribbons. “The team’s quality is quite high,” she says. And primed for even greater heights in the seasons to come.

Featured image of Natasha McCarthy by Mike Ledford.