Mar 30, 2010

LU equestrian team finishes inaugural season

by Daniel Martinez

There are dozens of sports at Liberty University, whether indoor, outdoor, varsity, club or intramural. For most, you have to hustle, look for your teammates or keep your eye on the ball.

No one on the equestrian team has to do any of those things.
Members of the equestrian team have to keep their shoulders back, lean forward, hold the reins in a controlled but relaxed grip, keep their heels down and keep their balance by squeezing a horse with their legs.

The Liberty University Equestrian Team became a reality just days before the start of the fall 2009 semester. It became more substantial when Crystal Rivers, a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church and owner of the Serene Creek Run Riding Center — a horse training facility with a barn, stables, and indoor and outdoor arenas in Forest — offered her facility and equipment to the needs of the team.

“They asked me to be the coach,” Rivers said of Liberty’s response.

Rivers, her facility, and her horses have had a presence in the Liberty community since 2007, when she started holding weekly TRBC Community Groups on Wednesday nights, offering local residents the chance to learn about horses and practice riding them. The response was immediate.

“Usually there are 20 or 30 people,” local resident Diane Rays said of the groups, which have been held ever since. “ (Rivers) has given a lot of kids an opportunity to ride who never normally would.”

But once the fall semester started, Rivers – who hails from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and has been training horses since 1977 – became a coach, and, soon, the 12-member team was frequenting Serene Creek, learning everything from how to groom and feed horses to how to ride them while they are moving at high speeds.

“I was doing community service (at Serene Creek),” junior Jayme Ingram said. “One day coach asked me if I wanted to be on the team. I had only been on a horse one time in my life and didn’t have lessons on it. I said ‘I don’t know how to ride,’ and she said, ‘I’ll teach you.’”

Other members of the team brought years of experience. Senior Mary Hedrick has been riding horses since she was 11, and junior Kamilah Reid and grad student Jenna Sellers have ridden since they were seven.

“Now we can market to people with horses who might want to come to Liberty because we have an equestrian team,” Rivers said of the benefits of this new program.

A member of the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association), the team spent its inaugural season largely learning how to compete by practicing at Serene Creek and by attending other local shows to watch both horse and rider. Then, in the spring semester, as they had the go to begin competing themselves, two of their first meets were snowed out.

While the team is largely a recruiting tool, team members did participate in three meets this semester, competing against such schools as Lynchburg College, Sweetbriar College, Radford University and William & Mary.

According to Ingram, a horse and rider are paired at random at a meet. The rider must then lead the horse into the ring, mount and, while a judge watches, have the horse walk, trot, canter, also referred to as a “controlled gallop” or jump over courses.

“There’s all sorts of things they can ask you to do,” Ingram said. “And you’re expected to do them.”

Twelve new team members are already signed up for the fall, and more could be on the way. Nine meets are anticipated for next year, starting in October. And the community groups are in session every Wednesday, cost free, with the chance for anyone interested to ride one of Serene Creek’s 18 horses (their names include Blondie, Comet, Cloud, Sonny, Stoner and Aurora) and learn more about them and their handling from one of the team members.

Anyone interested in joining the team should contact Rivers through the information on the club team’s Web site, under Ultimate LU.

“It’s like any other sport,” Ingram said. “You have to work out, practice, and watch other people.”

And there’s a horse, too.

Contact Daniel Martinez

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