BY April Bilodeau
Riding in college has grown in popularity in recent years, offering something for everyone no matter what discipline you choose. Many colleges offer riding as an extracurricular activity for students, but Emory & Henry College places it at the forefront, demonstrating to their students that the sport matters and they’re willing to support riders in every way possible.
The current state-of-the-art equestrian center sits fifteen minutes from the Emory, VA, campus and offers two indoor arenas, a 350×200 foot outdoor arena, a 40-acre cross country course, fifteen large paddocks, four tack rooms, and a classroom with a view of the riding arena.
Emory & Henry College competes in the Interscholastic Horse Show Association (IHSA), the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA), and the American National Riding Commission (ANRC). The program consists of 130 students and 70 horses.
With a total of 22 national championships across divisions, Emory & Henry ’s equestrian program is a proven force in collegiate riding.
“One of the unique things is that the riding classes are a part of your weekly schedule, just like every other class,” Odessa Thacker, Associate Director of Admissions and Equestrian Recruitment Specialist for Emory & Henry College, tells The Plaid Horse. “It helps students a lot with time management as it’s not just an after-school sport.”
Aside from regular lessons, each day there is a list of horses that need to be exercised made available to equestrian students, offering students the opportunity to ride additional horses at no cost.
The college offers majors in Equine Studies, Pre-Veterinary, and Equine Assisted Therapy. The Equine Studies program offers students the unique experience to not have a concentration within the major but instead to take a variety of classes that offer hands-on experience for students.
These classes include Methods of Teaching, Breaking and Training, Judging, Horse Show Management, and Course Design.
The college also assists in placing students in positions with riders, trainers, farms, and more to offer opportunities in their field of interest.
Graduates of the program have gone on to successful careers in the equine industry, such as Margo Thomas, who went on to be the head groom for Laura Kraut, and Emily Trice, a 2020 graduate who rides for Greg Crolick.
“The Equine Studies program at Emory & Henry shaped me as an equine professional and a person, and gave me invaluable opportunities and connections in the horse industry,” says Trice. “The riding program undoubtedly made me the rider I am today, and the coaching staff at E&H are absolutely incomparable. I am so thankful for everything the program taught me, and highly recommend it to others every chance I get.”
The program recruits hunter, jumper, equitation, eventing, and dressage riders.
“Some riders are very advanced when they come to college but we also need beginners to round out the team,” says Thacker. “We try to recruit students from all backgrounds. You don’t have to be riding at the rated shows to get recruited to come to college.”
Thacker prefers to meet potential students face-to-face and attends horse shows to connect with potential recruits, as well Pony Club meets and Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) shows.
The college offers scholarships to equestrian athletes with the typical amount ranging anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per year.
“Students do not have to major in any of the equine programs to ride on the team or get a scholarship,” says Thacker. “Our goal for the program is to make the equine industry accessible for the full four years that our students are with us, so they can learn about and experience parts of the industry that they may have never had the opportunity to before.”
Equestrian athletes are considered members of the varsity sports community at the college, therefore they receive perks such as team apparel in addition to having all of their show costs, including travel, covered.
Big Things To Come
“Our goal for the program is to make the industry available for the full four years that students are at school so they can do things that they never really imagined that they could do.” —Odessa Thacker, Associate Director of Admissions and Equestrian Recruitment Specialist
While their current facility may rival the average barn, in March 2023, the college’s Board of Trustees voted and approved to have a new equestrian facility built on campus.
While the college is still in the fundraising phase of the project, the new facility is slated to build 90 stalls, a derby field, additional classroom spaces, and locker rooms.
“We’re excited for our new facility, but more importantly we are not totally leaving our current facility,” says Thacker. “It has a lot of history and we plan to keep it as an additional space for students to continue their education in the equine industry.”