Liberty Equestrian Center provides students with outdoor recreation with four-legged friends
A quick drive up the mountain, past Snowflex and just a turn away from Hydaway lies one of Liberty’s hidden gems. Horses roam 380 acres of land where riders take advantage of two impressive arenas, and students experience the thick smell and fresh air of the Liberty Equestrian Center.
Located five miles from Liberty’s main campus, the center is home to 52 horses residing in three barns with 78 stalls. A large indoor arena with a complete sound system and fans for hot summer rides stands tall in the center of the property.
Just behind the largest building on site is the outdoor arena, boasting high-end irrigation and landscaping. Riders are able to enjoy rides in both these arenas, rain or shine.
“Horseback riding teaches you a lot about the animal world and yourself,” Director and Head Coach for the Liberty Equestrian Program Suzanne Flaig said. “When you’re dealing with a live animal, you have to be very aware of the emotions you bring to the table.”
Liberty students have the opportunity to take part in beginner, intermediate or advanced riding classes for two elective credit hours. Free guided trail rides and riding lessons are also available for Liberty students, faculty and staff by appointment only.
The center offers a program for students to interact with the horses without riding them, remaining on the ground and learning about the animals before swinging a leg over. This program ranges from grooming necessities and the parts of a horse to the importance and differences in the tack used.
“We always talk with the rider to find out what their goals are and what their level of experience is,” Flaig said. “(The students) are able to progress to additional skills with the horses as they’re ready to do so.”
Not only is this a way for students to achieve daily exercise during the course of their day, but it is also a great way for people of varying riding experience to interact with God’s creation.
“I think (horseback riding) is tranquil and exciting at the same time,” Flaig said. “It is so rewarding to have students be grateful for the opportunity.”
Longtime equestrian Flaig also said she has witnessed several students form bonds with the horses during their time at Liberty.
“We have some students that just like to come up and pet their favorite horses from time to time,” Flaig said. “The chance to interact with the animals in that way can be very rewarding for (the students).”
Flaig and her team always aim to provide for anyone who is interested in the equestrian program, whether at a basic level or the club competition team.
“We strive to provide a high level of safety more than anything,” Flaig said. “We want to allow students to interact with horses in a way that doesn’t make them afraid, but empowers them instead.”
Along with classes and recreational opportunities, the center is also home to the Liberty Equestrian Team, consisting of 30 riders, split between the English and Western teams. The young team was formed six years ago, but has made multiple appearances to the National Show, the highest level a rider can get to during the course of the show season.
Western team captain and Liberty senior Bri Bass is grateful for the opportunities the team has given her in her four years on the team.
“For me, riding has served as a great way to escape the many stresses of college, even if it’s just for a little bit each week,” Bass said. “Riding horses at Liberty has also allowed me to meet some of my best friends, while also giving me opportunities that I would have never thought were possible.”
The Equestrian Center also includes a boarding program for students, and there are 12 student-owned horses living in Liberty’s facilities. Boarders pay a fee each month while being able to ride their personal horses whenever they want.
The academic year is the busiest time for the center, with an average of 100 mounted rides per week. Due to high popularity, the Equestrian Center is currently booked to full capacity for both lessons and trail rides for the remaining academic semester. Trail rides and lessons can be scheduled throughout the summer and into the fall semester as well.
“We (the Equestrian Center work crew) all do this because we have a love for teaching and a love for horses,” Flaig said. “Being able to blend those two together is really something special.”
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