Sloan Elmassian, a 2017 graduate of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy who grew up in La Cañada Flintridge, is redefining the notion of the student athlete at the University of San Diego while remaining passionate to educate others about equestrian events such as show jumping, in which she specializes.
Elmassian is a professional equestrian who was able to get the university to revise its policy to include members of her sport — and others who qualify — as student athletes if they are able to produce a letter from a training federation recognized by the Olympics to qualify for that famed athletic competition.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Elmassian, adding she now has priority registration for classes like other student athletes. “More than anything, yes, I get to benefit from personal gain, but I also get to set a change in motion and break this barrier of equestrians not being looked at as athletes. Riding is not just we show up, the horse is ready, we ride for half an hour and we get off. It’s lots of physical labor. I never stop moving. For me, it’s seven days a week, 365 days a year. I’m an equestrian show jumper.”
Elmassian, who competes independently rather than for USD, began her riding career at age 3 at the Flintridge Riding Club, is a member of La Cañada Presbyterian Church and served as a princess in the Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court in 2016.
“I’ve always lived in La Cañada,” said Elmassian, though she’s currently based in La Jolla, about 15 minutes away from the university and the barn where her horse Centurion is housed. Elmassian has fond memories of being in the Royal Court, noting that applying to be on it was a requirement at FSHA and she thought it might be interesting.
“When I was selected to be on the court, I was used to being in boots and jeans and covered in dirt and spit and horse feed,” Elmassian said. “It was fun for a year to dress up and put on some high heels and a skirt and go out and be personable.”
Her mother, Robin, noted the equestrian’s versatility.
“Sloan can do it all, she said. “She can take off her tiara and go compete [on a horse] within an hour. She’s just diverse in her talents and a woman first. She sang in church for many years. She’s got a beautiful voice. And she loves to be a mom to her horses.”
USD Vice Provost Thomas Herrinton said he was in charge of Elmassian’s student athlete case because his responsibility is to hear student appeals involving academic regulations.
“Sloan blazed a trail,” Herrinton said.
Elmassian had appealed a previous university decision that didn’t allow her to receive priority registration because she was not recognized as a student athlete.
“There was not a question she was an athlete,” Herrinton said. “She’s obviously a student. But she was not participating in our NCAA teams. She didn’t fit the definition of the group that qualified for priority registration.”
Elmassian, a junior, is majoring in law, crime and justice studies with a minor in business management.
“It’s something I have an interest in, of course, but it’s more of a fall-back plan,” she said. “Horses are my priority.”
Murray Kessler, president of the United States Equestrian Federation, said he was inspired by Elmassian and wanted to create more opportunities for equestrian athletes like her.
“I was impressed by Sloane’s passion and commitment, not only to her own focus on equestrian sport, but also by her desire to create awareness of the sport and the fact that equestrian athletes deserve the same treatment, recognition and accommodation as other collegiate athletes balancing academic and athletic goals,” Kessler said in a statement. “Equestrian sport is hard, requiring resilience, strength and the ability to communicate with another living being under extreme pressure. I appreciate her opening the door for me to help.”
Herrinton said he made the decision to grant Elmassian’s appeal because she trained as much as was expected of an NCAA team member, the university should support those training for Olympic teams, and she had the same need as a student athlete for priority registration.
He said the Equestrian Federation had needed the university to certify that Elmassian was training for the Olympics.
FSHA athletic director Stephanie Contreras described Elmassian as very dedicated and responsible, like other student athletes.
“She’s a really bright and intelligent young woman,” Contreras said. “Like any athlete, she gets into the zone and she was very dedicated and committed to her sport. It has been really important to her life.”