Western Carolina University has its own Equestrian Club. The club is intended as a place where fans of horseback riding with all different amounts of experience can bond over a mutual love of the sport. Under the leadership of Coach Julia Collins, the team meets to practice riding, compete with other teams in the area, perform community service and form lasting friendships.
Equestrianism is a broad term covering horse-related activities ranging from farm work to cultural exercises, but for the Western Carolina team, it refers more specifically to horse shows. This means riding a horse for a panel of judges who appraise the rider’s form, style and capacity to handle the horse they are on.
Most college equestrian teams are overseen by the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, which organizes competitive shows for about 300 United States universities. Western Carolina is part of Zone Four, Region Five of the league, putting them in competition with Lenoir Rhyne University, Ferrum College, Virginia Tech and several schools in the UNC system. Most of the schools in a zone compete at the same shows about seven times a year.
The horses at these shows are assigned randomly and the riders don’t spend any time with them before the competition, so results are determined through skill alone.
Judging a horse show is a complex endeavor. Everything from posture to the way the horse jumps to the way the rider holds their hands can impact their score. Because the horses are assigned randomly, their training and temperament are not directly judged.
However, an unruly horse can reflect a lack of control on the rider’s part, and if a horse refuses to jump three times, it results in an immediate disqualification. Otherwise, the judges assign points to the rider based on how competently they control the horse, and those points are used both to decide performance in the competition and what competitions they will be approved for in the future.
Club Vice President Katie Hockley thinks that the club makes a positive impact all throughout the community. It provides a social hub for students who enjoy the hobby and partakes in local charity efforts. Members volunteer at a local rescue mission for abandoned horses, maintain dog boxes along campus walking trails and participate in the Tuck River Cleanup every spring.
Earlier this year, the club organized an event called Catamount Clip Clop Day, a horse themed day camp for special needs children. Club members drew on their own lessons with the team and showed the children how to properly groom, lead and ride a horse, as well as leading them in some fun crafts. The camp was held at Mountain Dell Equestrian, a private riding club in Waynesville that also provides the club with their competition riding lessons.
When they aren’t working on their own horse riding, the students attend professional horse shows to watch, go on hikes and river tubing trips, and even have plans to attend the Mountain State Fair together this year. They also make efforts to promote the club and raise money for some of their more expensive activities. Some of their annual fundraisers include selling donuts, washing cars and participating in the Valley of the Lillies 5k held on campus every spring. Like most Western Carolina clubs, they run a booth at Valley Ballyhoo in the fall.
Above all, Hockley believes that the Equestrian Club is about giving students a positive college experience alongside people who share their interests and passions.
“Our club is where a group of people coming from any background or experience level can come together and bond over our love for horses,” Hockley said.
The first show of the year for Western Carolina’s zone will be on Saturday, Sept. 30 at Averitt University in Providence. This competition will be a hunt seat format, which judges performance on a jumping course in addition to riding form.
The Equestrian Club meets every other Tuesday in the Cordelia Camp Building at 8 p.m. and meetings are open to the public. The club is active on Facebook at “Equestrian Club at WCU” and Instagram @equestrian_club_at_wcu. Interested students are also invited to contact Hockley through email at email@example.com or Club President Leah Parrish at firstname.lastname@example.org.