Naperville native Emy Lucibello has ‘saddled’ into life at Texas Christian University (TCU), currently competing in her junior season with the Horned Frogs Equestrian team. She basically grew up in a stable, as riding horses her entire life has led Lucibello to be on the top-ranked collegiate team in the country.
Shining in the classroom
She’s also found success outside of the arena, recently being named TCU’s October Scholar Athlete of the Month, given to a student-athlete from any sport on campus.
“Yeah, it means a lot, like I’ve put in a lot of work in high school and in college to really set myself up for success,” said Lucibello. “And so I didn’t even know I was nominated, yet alone, selected as Scholar-Athlete of the Month until the email came through. It’s just a nice pat on the back after some stressful couple of years.”
Last season, she was named Academic All-Big 12 and listed on the NCEA All-Academic honor roll.
At Naperville Central High School, Lucibello took multiple AP classes and often traveled for equestrian. She says at times, it felt like she was already in college while still a high school student. It was stressful, but her balance between academics and athletics at Naperville Central helped pave the way for a relatively easy transition to TCU.
“Coming in with a lot of AP credits, Naperville Central did a great job of offering all those courses and making them feasible with my demanding equestrian schedule,” said Lucibello. I came into TCU basically already a sophomore. So right now, I’m technically, academically a senior.”
Although, academically, she could be a senior, Lucibello is still a junior at TCU and will return in the fall of 2024 for her senior season.
Lucibello’s move to TCU and transition to collegiate equestrian
Throughout her childhood, Emy and her sister Ava competed nationally at dozens of horseback riding events. The family often visits Texas, where Lucibello’s mother, Monica, grew up, so the move to TCU in Fort Worth was the perfect fit for the entire Lucibello family.
One transition was not so easy, and that was the format of equestrian at the collegiate level. Lucibello, like almost all equestrian riders, grew up competing individually in the sport, with just one personal horse. Lucibello and her horse Blue, spent six years together before she went off to college.
The bond between the rider and horse is a special one, and the trust both must have in one another is crucial. College equestrian is a team format, and everyone must be able to ride multiple different horses.
“It’s a huge jump from knowing your horse like the back of your hand to something that you’ve never (or ridden) seen in your life,” said Lucibello.
The home team supplies the horses for each event. So the visiting team must try to secure points while riding horses they’ve most likely never ridden before.
“Sometimes it isn’t perfect, actually, all the time it isn’t perfect, but that’s just part of the sport,” Lucibello added. “Sometimes the horse trips and you can get points deducted for that, but it’s out of your control. Sometimes you don’t like your draw, but it’s what you have to ride. I think horses have taught me that sometimes things just aren’t always perfect and that’s totally fine.”
During her time at TCU, Lucibello has appeared in over 17 meets. Through the first two meets this season, the Horned Frogs have picked up ranked victories against then-number-one-ranked SMU and number-five Oklahoma State. The season has only just begun, with Big-12 Championships starting on March 29, 2024.
In collegiate equestrian, competitions include two Western Disciplines; Reining and Horsemanship, along with two English Disciplines; Fences and Flat. Lucibello rides English, and primarily Fences, which is more common for people from the northern portion of the United States.
“Even with the terminology, like equestrian, not many people know what that means back home,” said Lucibello. “But you come down here, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we all ride horses.’ I think within the sport too, people just (better) understand the time commitment and what it demands of you physically and mentally.”
Finding time to ride in the ‘professional world’
Since the age of five, Lucibello has spent her time outside of school at a stable, riding her horse Blue, or other companions along the way. Once she graduates from TCU, she’ll transition to the professional world, and with that, have less time to do what she loves.
“Over the summer I had an internship in downtown Chicago and, I was so desperate to ride a horse that I would fight rush hour traffic at 5 p.m. and drive two hours to a horse show facility and ride a horse there,” said Lucibello. “Even though it was only like a 15-minute ride, it was so worth it in my mind.”
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Photo and video courtesy: Emy and Monica Lucibello