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Liberty adds equestrian team to Club Sports program

Caroline Trexler, head coach of Liberty University’s new equestrian team

As barn manager for Liberty University’s Equestrian Center, Caroline Trexler and her staff have their hands full tending to the 15 horses and a menagerie of other animals that reside there.

Starting this semester, she will be even busier as head coach of Liberty’s women’s equestrian team, the newest addition to the rapidly growing Club Sports program.

“I am so excited,” said Trexler, a graduate of Towson University in Maryland who has worked at the Liberty Equestrian Center since it opened in 2011. “It’s definitely something students have been inquiring about for a while and we are really looking forward to it.”

Equestrian brings the total number of programs offered by Liberty Club Sports to 32 — 17 men’s and 15 women’s teams — for this coming school year.

“We’re excited to work with Caroline in starting the new program,” Liberty Director of Club Sports Kirk Handy said. “We believe she has a great vision for the women’s equestrian program at Liberty University.”

Starting this fall, the Lady Flames will compete in the hunter seat division of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, which includes more than 8,300 student riders from more than 370 colleges and universities around the United States and Canada.

Student-athletes in this division have the opportunity to show in eight classes ranging from walk-trot hunter seat equitation to open hunter seat equitation over fences, according to their individual ability.

Liberty will join Region 2 of Zone 4 in the IHSA, a highly competitive region for women’s riding that includes Sweet Briar College, Randolph College, and Hollins University, which has won 12 of the past 18 regional championships. The Lady Flames also will show against well-established programs at Bridgewater College, James Madison University, Longwood University, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Radford University, Roanoke College, the University of Virginia, and Washington & Lee University.

“It will be a challenge, but having talented competition like that provides the opportunity to get better,” Trexler said. “The team will be on a small scale initially, but when Liberty adds a club sport, they intend for it to be successful.”

Trexler said recent donations played a role in the decision to start a team.

Liberty’s equestrian facility is located on the university’s Campbell County property on Liberty Mountain.

The bucolic equestrian center itself was another factor, located on a 270-acre tract of land on Liberty’s mountain property in Campbell County, about a 10-minute drive from campus beyond the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre. It features an eight-stall stable, which could expand to as many as 48 stalls in the future, and a 150-by-160-foot outdoor ring among other amenities.

“Our ring was designed by Bob Kiser of Kiser Arena Specialists (based in Texas), who builds rings around the world for events such as the World Equestrian Games and FEI World Cup,” Trexler said. “It is a spectacular ring. In the future, as we expand, it will be a big benefit as we look to host shows.”

A 150-foot extension pad has been graded out adjoining the ring for future expansion.

The center currently houses 15 horses and is available to students pursuing any number of riding interests as both boarders and recreational riders. While nine of the horses are student-owned, the remaining six — including three owned by the family of Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. — will be utilized by team members for practices and lessons.

The Lady Flames will travel to a variety of events around the region and be randomly assigned horses to ride at each show, rather than hauling their own.

“That won’t necessarily be a disadvantage,” Trexler said. “Some of our girls are able to bring their horses to school and board at the facility, while others ride or take lessons on Liberty’s horses. IHSA provides the opportunity for all of these students to compete on a level playing field, regardless of their status of horse ownership or experience level.”

Trexler believes this type of showing arrangement can give newer riders an edge.

“There’s a saying in the horse industry that someone who rides 15 different horses for one year can be a better rider than someone who rides one horse for 15 years,” she said. “They can garner huge amounts of experience by being able to ride different horses.”

This past year, Trexler along with her assistant and four student workers provided nearly 500 rides for Liberty students and staff members. She will have more hands on deck to lessen the load starting this fall. By the time the semester starts on Aug. 19, Trexler will have two part-time staff members and six student workers available for day-to-day horse care, teaching lessons, and assisting with events such as Student Activities’ Fall Festival, set for Oct. 26.

Additionally, she is hopeful that Lori Matthews, a substitute teacher at Liberty Christian Academy, will join her staff and serve as the hunter seat coach.

“She has experience on the A circuit and as a hunter/jumper coach since the late 1970s,” Trexler said. “I was born in the ’80s.”

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