Western Carolina has an equestrian team?

Jasmine Fowler riding Andy. Photo from her Facebook profile with permission to use.

Amongst volleyball, disc golf, ballet, softball, and more, Western Carolina University’s Equestrian team is a club sport that many students are unaware of.

Many of you may be asking, what is an equestrian sport? Horseback riding defines the equestrian sport. Out of the many, two different equestrian riding styles are generally practiced at WCU: English and Western. More specifically, Hunter Seat and Western Horsemanship. Horseback riding is not an easy sport, explains team member Christa Cloud. “You must be confident in yourself before you can convince a 1000-pound animal to listen to you.”

WCU Equestrian team members are required to practice weekly at local farm, Mountain Dell Equestrian, located in Waynesville, NC. Angela Fowler, riding coach for the team and owner of Mountain Dell, does a great job with instructing students at all riding levels and disciplines.

“Angela has taught me how to appreciate each ride whether it went good or bad, and to always take away a positive outlook on the experience,” said Cloud. Angela is not only a great instructor to her students, but she quickly becomes a companion to them as well. Practice is never dull with a coach like Angela, and it is almost certain that she will find a way to bring a smile to her students’ faces, no matter what the circumstances.

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association is the program that enables these students to compete at all different levels at minimal cost, and without the burdens of having to own and/or train their own horses. IHSA was started “… with just me, as an 18 year old kid with no money who just wanted to ride a horse,” said Bob Cacchione, legend in the collegiate equestrian industry and founder of the riding program. IHSA quickly grew from just two competing colleges, to 300 colleges in 45 states as well as Canada. One of the most unique aspects of IHSA is that any college student may compete whether they have just gotten on a horse yesterday for the first time, or whether they have had a lifetime experience with riding horses. Highly praised for its structure of competition, IHSA horse shows are competitive, but the focus is based on learning, showmanship and fun.

The WCU Equestrian team competes at many different colleges, such as Virginia Intermont, Elon University, Virginia Tech, St. Andrews, and more. Although WCU does not own their own horses, it is not a setback for the riders. Each school participates in “catch riding.” Catch riding is where the rider simply draws a horse’s name out of a hat and performs on that particular horse. Due to this fact, the riders are typically judged on equitation, or, their position on the horse and how they handle their draw. Team member Samantha Brittain says that her favorite part about the intercollegiate equestrian team is getting the experience of riding so many different horses.

“I think you really gain a lot as a rider when you are riding a horse that you’ve never been on before,” she says. Many competitors even fall in love with the horse that they draw, finding that these horses are trained exceptionally well and leading to the wishes of bringing that horse home with them. As Brittain explained her favorite horse, Vinnie, her face lit up with joy. “I loved Vinnie, and always hope to draw whenever I’m at VI. He is such a pleasure to ride,” she said.

To be a part of WCU’s equestrian team, there are a few fees, but they try to make it possible for a college student’s budget. Club fees ($10/semester) are required, as well as the $35 IHSA membership fee, show fees and weekly riding lessons. Tack for the horse is provided during both shows and practices, but show clothes are not. WCU’s Club Sport funding often covers transportation and hotel fees, but sometimes riders have to contribute due to funding limitations.

To find out more about joining WCU’s equestrian team, contact Lesley Hammontree, at lahammontree1@catamount.wcu.edu. Lesley is a sophomore at WCU, and President of the Equestrian Team, or contact Nory Prochaska, faculty advisor, at prochske@email.wcu.edu.

Editor’s note: Heather Crawford  was a member of WCU Equestrian Club from 2009-20011