By Monica Young
Many colleges and universities have an eclectic assortment of the typical clubs, groups, fraternities, sororities, and athletic teams, but when the equestrian club came to Lees-McRae College, it brought a breath of fresh air attracting the attention of many students and faculty members. The idea for an equestrian club at Lees-McRae came from student, AnnMarie Hall, who is currently a barn manager at two local barns and plans to enter a career field involving horses and riding.
AnnMarie began campaigning for an equestrian club in 2006 during her freshman year here at Lees-McRae. “There are so many trails in the area and so many local farms with horses that it would be a waste not to have an equestrian club at the school. It is such a beautiful place to ride and enjoy horses. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of what the area has to offer?” AnnMarie said.
Trying to get an equestrian club at Lees-McRae was not an easy goal to obtain in the beginning, and many obstacles got in the way of getting the club started. Certain obstacles that held the equestrian club back initially were financial, insurance, and liability issues.
However, AnnMarie was determined to achieve her goal, despite the obstacles she faced. Finally, after having numerous meetings with Lees-McRae President Barry Buxton, and other staff members, she got the green light to go ahead with the club at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
AnnMarie’s hard work also paid off for her personally, as she was honored with the title of president and founder. As president, AnnMarie maintains clubs relationships, both internally and externally. “I have to make sure that everybody in the club gets along, so that we can have a good reputation around campus. I also have to maintain relations with the owners and staff whose barns we ride at so that we can ensure that we will always have their support and help. It’s important for me to maintain a good relationship with President Buxton and keep him informed of what we are doing and where we are trying to go in the future,” AnnMaire explained.
The first meeting was held in September. “At first we only had six members who joined, but as time went on interest in the club grew and grew,” she said. Currently, there are sixteen members in the equestrian club and many others who have shown interest and want to become members.
Members of the equestrian club ride at Saddle Club at Yonahlossee in Boone, as well as Dutch Creek Trails in Valle Crucis. “Both of these places are so beautiful! We are so fortunate to be able to ride in such great locations. Both places are great opportunities for us to ride and strengthen our skills,” said club president, AnnMarie.
Though there are other equestrian clubs and competitions in the region, the Lees-McRae equestrian club does not currently compete in events. However, they are looking to start competing in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) shows.
The IHSA provides collegiate riders of all skills the opportunity to compete individually and as teams in equestrian competition. This association was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in horse shows regardless of his or her riding ability. They offer a variety of events including eight levels of Hunter Seat Riding and six levels of Western Riding.
In the IHSA there are about 8,300 students representing over 370 colleges and universities from across the United States and Canada. The Lees-McRae Equestrian Club hopes to soon become part of this great association and to eventually become a force to reckon with during IHSA competitions.
When I asked AnnMarie if she thought the club would continue to grow, I could see the excitement light up her face as she smiled and exclaimed, “Yes! Of course! It will grow because not only is it an interesting club, but there are also many advantages to having an equestrian club. There is not only money in it for the college, but it is a wonderful opportunity for students to become more knowledgeable about horses and their many and great benefits.”
AnnMarie predicts that in the future the equestrian club will keep growing: “I think we will eventually have our own facilities close to campus that are owned or rented by Lees-McRae. I believe a lot of people who donate to the school will take an interest in what we are doing. We might even have an equestrian minor one of these days!”
With high hopes in their hearts and determination in their eyes, AnnMarie and the members of the equestrian club saddle up their horses and begin to ride. As the horses trot through the terrain of western North Carolina, they know that the road to achieving their goals will be similar to some of the trails on which they ride. The road they travel will not always be smooth. It will take hard work, patience, and time, but at the end, when they make it to competitions at the IHSA, they know it will be worth all the while.