Equestrian Center upgrades open new riding opportunities
May 3, 2017 | Rustburg, Va.
The expansion of Liberty University's Equestrian Center — which started last summer and was completed this spring — has helped elevate its fourth-year equestrian program to regional prominence.
Additions to the 380-acre facility located on the opposite side of Liberty Mountain five miles from Liberty's main campus include a new 300-foot by 120-foot outdoor ring and an indoor arena of the same dimensions. A new barn on the other side of the indoor ring — identical in size to the one built after the program was launched in 2013 — features 24 stalls (bringing the total on site to 60) as well as a team room and a locker room for Liberty's 33 Hunt Seat and Western student riders.
"It's now one of the nicest in the state of Virginia, and as college facilities go, this is as nice as any in the country, so we're blessed to have it," said second-year Equestrian Center Executive Director Jim Arrigon, who stepped down after 25 seasons as secretary of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) last fall to devote his time and energy to developing the budding riding program.
While the construction was ongoing, Arrigon was busy building up his staff, naming Lauren Eagles as assistant coach in charge of the Western team, Suzanne Flaig — a former IHSA National Champion rider and assistant of his at Miami (Ohio) University — as associate director of the Equestrian Center and head coach of the Hunter Seat team, and University of Mary Washington graduate Kimberly Counts as an assistant coach in charge of training the program's 40 horses.
Practicing in their new digs under the guidance of a talented coaching staff, Liberty's Hunt Seat and Western teams enjoyed exceptional seasons this past fall and spring.
Sophomore Western rider Leah Ofalt was Liberty's first Southeastern semifinals qualifier and placed eighth at the March 24-26 event hosted by St. Andrews (N.C.) University, the defending IHSA Western national champion. Sophomore Hunt Seat rider Kendall Burdette, competing in the intermediate flat division, won the prestigious Tournament of Champions High Medal award, leading Liberty to a seventh-place team showing in its first season in that four-event, national-level series.
Even more impressively, senior captain Elizabeth Chenelle received the Cacchione Cup trophy, succeeding Counts as the Region 4 regular-season high-points champion, to pace the Lady Flames to the regular-season title in their first season in Region 4. Chenelle will be Liberty's first participant in the 50th annual IHSA Collegiate National Championships, Thursday through Sunday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., competing in open fences against 40 other regional Cacchione Cup qualifiers.
"The success we had this year was way beyond even what I expected," Arrigon said. "At each of the colleges I've been to before, it predictably takes three years to get where you want to be and by the fourth or fifth year, you really hit your stride. So we're ahead of schedule and it's going to continue to get better."
Arrigon also hired Meghan Nedow, who received therapeutic horsemanship and business management degrees at St. Andrew's, to help Arrigon teach beginner, intermediate, and advanced riding and horsemanship classes through Liberty's kinesiology department starting last fall and to run a therapeutic program, which debuted this month, as a method of providing stress relief for students.
|College of Osteopathic Medicine student-doctor Josiah Horne leads a horse in Liberty's new therapeutic program. (Photo by Asa Keimig)|
So far, 16 student-doctors from Liberty's College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) have participated in the therapeutic program on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
"We've had students go multiple times already and they definitely love it," said Meagan Eckhardt, student services coordinator for LUCOM. "It enables them to get out of school mode and into treating themselves — mentally, physically, and spiritually — by getting out in nature and grooming, feeding and walking with horses that have been retired from riding and competing."
The four horses used in the therapeutic program, as well as a couple miniatures and donkeys, are boarded in a secluded area on the farm, providing a peaceful retreat setting for students to nurture the animals by grooming, petting, leading, grazing, and bathing them.
"They're excited to come out and see the horses and the farm, to put down the books and get hands-on experience, actively working with them," Nedow said. "They get to bond with them and learn about their history, what they used to do when they were in their physical prime, and the horses get a lot of attention, which is good."
She said the program will be expanded to make it available to students from other departments in the future.
"We're opening it up to other students who may be dealing with depression or those who just need a break from college, giving them an opportunity to talk to the horses and talk to us, to work through their problems," Nedow said.
Arrigon said he is looking into establishing a partnership with Wounded Warriors to help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients, both military veterans and police officers, living in the area.
He is also focusing on recruiting riders for the equestrian team, traveling to judge shows and conduct clinics in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, New York, and around Virginia — a hotbed for collegiate riding programs and the heart of hunter-jumper horse country.
As well as attracting prospective riders, the Equestrian Center's enhanced facilities have helped to bring in some high-level shows. Liberty will host the equestrian events of this summer's Commonwealth Games for a second time in late July as well as a variety of Virginia Horse Show Association (VHSA) shows this summer. It has also landed two collegiate IHSA Hunt Seat competitions for next spring — a regular-season show on Feb. 10 and the IHSA Region 4 Championships on Feb. 24.