Farm manager's horse world ties elevate equestrian program
May 28, 2020 | Rustburg, Va.
As farm manager at the Liberty University Equestrian Center, John Eubank draws upon a lifetime of experience to help maintain the 380-acre property with indoor and outdoor riding arenas, three barns, and 50-plus horses.
|Eubank grooms one of the 50 horses currently stabled at the Liberty Equestrian Center on Wednesday.|
Eubank, who lives on his family's 19th century farm near Elon in Amherst County with nine horses of his own, worked in similar roles for 11 years at Randolph College and four years at Sweet Briar College prior to joining Liberty's equestrian staff.
"My family were all horse people, so I was born and raised in it, and I've been in it for 59 years," said Eubank, who is married and has a son and two grandkids. "My family shows horses, so it's a good way to keep the family together and enjoy time with the family, and I get to come up here and do this, too. We are blessed to have such a facility and to be in this location. It's a beautiful place."
His level of expertise and vast network of relationships in the equine field are the greatest resources he brings to the table.
"I've been in this area and have been involved with horses all my life, and I have a lot of contacts with people in the horse world on the outside — hay vendors and feed vendors, the veterinarians and the farriers that we deal with," Eubank said.
Just as Lady Flames' Hunt Seat Head Coach and Director of Equestrian Programs Suzanne Flaig is continually recruiting prospective riders, Eubank is always on the lookout for new horses, not counting those boarded there by Liberty students.
"It's just like anything else, like vehicles," he said. "You buy a vehicle, but sooner or later, it's going to wear out and you've got to get another one. Horses are no different. They get to a point where they're not as competitive, or health issues will force them to retire. You've always got your eye open and are always on the hunt — to bring the new in and send the old ones out. New horses, new riders, it is the same flow, all of the time."
Flaig is glad to have Eubank on staff to handle those trades, as well as to provide care for the horses, manage the barns, and groom the riding surfaces with his Liberty-branded John Deere tractor.
|Eubank manicures the outdoor riding ring surface.|
"He likes that tractor," she said. "He's really good with all of that equipment and keeps that running, because we have a lot of property to maintain."
But she believes his value to the operation runs much deeper on a personal level.
"John just helps keep us together," Flaig said. "He's such a stabilizing force in keeping all the different moving pieces of the farm working smoothly. He has a calm, gentle manner about him which the horses appreciate, all of our staff appreciates, and just makes coming to work a good experience for all of us."
She and Hunt Seat Assistant Coach Kimi Counts, Western Assistant Coach Madeline Shrode, and horsemanship instructor Meghan Hobson complement one another extremely well.
"We are so blessed to have the amazing staff that we have and that we've stayed together," Flaig said. "It's a good team. Everybody contributes something unique to it, and that's what's enabled us to continue to grow and to thrive for the past several years."
Complemented by a staff of 30-plus part-time student workers and graduate assistants, Flaig and Eubank manage the facility with a professionalism that has established it as an elite riding center.
"Everybody up here pitches in, regardless of their position," Eubank said. "We all clean stalls and unload hay. Everybody gets a little taste of everything. It can be labor-intense, but that's what we love doing. Everybody enjoys the horses and the fellowship that goes along with it. Everybody here is actually just a big family, and the girls (riders) are so much a part of it, too."
The equestrian staff takes pride in creating an environment and culture at the center where the horses and riders can flourish. Liberty's Hunt Seat and Western teams both placed second in Region 4 of the International Horse Shows Association (IHSA) this past season, with four Hunt Seat and three Western riders advancing to the Zone 4 and IHSA National Semi-Finals that were canceled in March by COVID-19.
|Rising senior Riley Milam rides during the Hunt Seat Region 4 show at the Liberty Equestrian Center in February. (Photo by Luke Bobbey)|
"Watching the girls come in and accelerate from being a learning rider to competing at a high collegiate level and graduating with a love of the horse and a love of this facility and everybody else is what I like — just seeing that progression," Eubank said.
"It's fun to watch them grow — not only in their horsemanship skills, but as people, too — in their career paths, in their walk with their faith, and just as they grow into who they are," Flaig added. "That's a fun part of our job."
While there are some summer events to look forward to, including the June 16-19 advanced overnight camp and June 22-26 beginners day camp and the July 25 Virginia Commonwealth Games at Liberty equestrian show, they are eagerly awaiting the return of students for the start of the Fall 2020 semester, when the Equestrian Center can again serve as a welcome retreat from daily pressures of academic life.
"Even our student workers who may not be involved in our mounted programs say it's kind of like a little escape or a little oasis away from some of the other stressors or challenges in their day," Flaig said. "So, we're happy they feel that way and that that is something we can provide."
"The facility itself is so nice and pretty, and out in the country, it stands out," Eubank added. "I hope things will return to normal in the fall. Once we get back going again, the door is open to continue to grow and thrive."