Sweet Briar College: 100 Years of Equestrian Women

Sita Moses ’23 riding Sweet Briar College’s Quality Time

By Sarah Welk Baynum   

Nestled in the rolling hills of Sweet Briar, VA, is a collegiate equestrian program that has been a part of campus culture for over 100 years. In fact, Sweet Briar College is one of just a few colleges to offer both NCEA and IHSA Equestrian teams at the varsity level.

“We have a phenomenal group of instructors, staff and horses. Our program is supportive, competitive, and fun, while educating our students to be knowledgeable regarding horses and the sport of equestrian,” says Merrilee “Mimi” Wroten, the Director of Riding and the head NCEA coach at Sweet Briar. 

Overhead of the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center. Photo © Sweet Briar College

The equestrian program offers both mounted and classroom courses. These courses include topics such as: mounted lessons for all level riders, preparing horses for and competing in horse shows, field riding, schooling horses, horse care, stable management, and instruction on teaching riding. Sweet Briar’s instructors and staff bring years of experience and knowledge, which provides students with numerous opportunities to be a part of an inclusive, supportive, and successful program. 

Many former students excel in equine related careers in a variety of fields, such as veterinarians, horse show managers, photographers, realtors, lawyers and insurance agents. If you are also studying, but not only equestrian sports, you can buy assignment online, thereby freeing up more spare time.

2022 IHSA Nationals Open Equitation on the Flat Champion, Emmy Longest ’24 with Coach Lizzie Fisch, Coach Sarah Miller, Bob Cacchione and an IHSA volunteer. Photo © Andrew Ryback

Horse Showing & Activities

Sweet Briar has a full calendar of activities that offer options for riders of all interests and levels.  

On campus they host several levels of hunter/jumper/equitation shows, a hunter trial, a hunter pace, and other recreational activities. Horses and riders ready to compete have the opportunity to head off campus to participate in both local and rated shows.

Sweet Briar’s equestrians develop as riders in a very well-rounded manner. “We compete in multiple hunter/jumper/equitation collegiate competition formats. Some competitions challenge students’ catch riding skills while others allow the horse and rider to compete as a practiced pair,” adds Wroten. The NCEA and IHSA competitions will randomly select the horse that the student will be competing on the day of the competition, testing the rider’s catch riding abilities. ODAC and ANRC competitions, on the other hand, allow student athletes to use their own or a college-owned horse when they compete. The variety of competitions Sweet Briar riders can attend adds to the program’s already glowing reputation. 

In 2022, the Sweet Briar Vixens IHSA team was the IHSA Zone IV Region IV Champion for the fourth year in a row. The team participated in the IHSA National Championships and placed third overall. Sweet Briar rider Emmy Longest, ‘24, claimed the IHSA Open Equitation on the Flat Individual Championship.  

This college is a trend setter when it comes to competing, as they were the first ever Division III school to be a member and compete in the NCEA Equestrian format. In 2021, the Sweet Briar team was the NCEA Single Discipline National Champions. This past year, the NCEA team won the 2022 ECAC Single Discipline Championship and was the 2022 Runner Up National Champion. 

Katherine Atherton ’25 at 2022 NCEA Nationals. 2022 ECAC Fences Rider of the Year, Freshman Rider of the Year and 2022 NCEA All-America Honorable Mention Flat Rider. Photo © Andrew Ryback

An Equestrian Friendly Campus

At Sweet Briar, the barn is located on campus within walking distance of the main quad. For students participating in the riding program, this is a convenient perk. The college owns over 50 horses that students learn from and ride. With 80 large box stalls and ample turnout, the facility is able to accommodate student-boarded horses as well as the college-owned herd. “Our main barns were recently renovated to provide state of the art facilities. The attention to detail in the stables provides a safe and beautiful environment for our horses and students to thrive,” Wroten says. The Sweet Briar equestrian facility has an impressive 120 x 300 indoor arena, which is one of the largest indoor college arenas in the country. Three outdoor rings, including a large competition ring complete with sprinkler system and lighting, provide students multiple areas to enjoy their time in the saddle. In addition to the arenas, the renovated stable also features a heated viewing area and a dedicated locker room for the riders. The barn is surrounded by 2,840 acres of stunning Virginia countryside campus, providing plenty of room to ride through forests and fields.

Photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Photo © Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar Alumnae

As a Liberal Arts college with a women’s leadership core, Sweet Briar helps prepare students for a variety of professions connected to the equine industry. Sweet Briar’s alumnae are a testament to what this college, and its equestrian program, can do for its students’ future careers. 

Even decades ago, Sweet Briar was setting its students up to be leaders in the workforce and in the saddle. Lendon Gray, a 1971 graduate, became an Olympian who represented the USA internationally in Dressage and later became president and founder of Dressage for Kids, Inc. 

It comes as no surprise that many graduates go on to become equine veterinarians after graduate school. Dr. Sarah Mouri, a 2006 alumna, became an equine veterinarian and works in the horse capitals of Kentucky and Florida. 

Another alumna, 2010 graduate Maxine Emerich-Jaquish, worked in several mainstream engineering positions before combining her work with her love of horses. She is now the manager and operator of Engineered Equine Performance. 

Brittany Aiken ’22 in the Howell Lykes Colton Stables. Photo © Sweet Briar College

Building Leaders

“We have several areas where students can share, strengthen, and develop leadership skills. Our riding council is a student-led club that helps provide support and leadership to the entire program, our trail guides take students out to enjoy the trails and we have student workers in the stables who help at all levels to care for the horses and facilities,” says Wroten.

In addition, Sweet Briar’s equestrian certificate program gives students the opportunity to assist teaching beginner level riders and offers hands-on opportunities to learn about the management of horses and equestrian facilities. 

For students with post-grad goals, Sweet Briar graduates have an impressive 93% acceptance rate over the last 12 years. Planning, organizing, and goal-setting while being flexible are skills that horses teach us. 

Whether students want to simply enjoy horses, compete, train, or pursue a career within the equine industry, these skills translate well into other areas of their lives. Sweet Briar’s supportive program cultivates learning opportunities, empowering women to become tomorrow’s leaders. 

*This story was originally published in the December 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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