The Ole Miss Equestrian Club is seeking donations to help the organization grow.
Emma Kate Thome, member and community service chairman, said the Ole Miss Equestrian Club is a fledging team founded in 2015. Members pay semester dues that barely cover the expenses to and from the stables for horseback riding lessons and competitions at host universities from Mississippi to Georgia.
Student riders must travel almost 60 miles to reach their barn facilities for practice and lessons each week, since there are no appropriate facilities in greater Oxford to accommodate a collegiate competitive riding team.
The equestrian team has rapidly grown since it first began, and boasts roughly 25 full-time student members.
“Being on the Equestrian Team has definitely impacted my college experience in a positive way,” Thome said. “The friends that I have made on the team are some of my best friends I have made in college.”
Collegiate Equestrian teams accept riders of all abilities, and offer two types of horseback riding disciplines: English and Western. Dozens of Ole Miss riders take weekly lessons.
The riding facilities need to be equipped with enough horses to accommodate a team. The adult trainers also must spend entire weekends with the team whenever competitions take place at various host universities because each team needs a collegiate coach to compete, and most competitions are located far away.
As a member of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, club officers need to complete team paperwork for the upcoming competitions at participating universities. Each semester, there are approximately two equestrian competitions every month, typically on weekends.
In just two years, the Ole Miss Equestrian Club has become a top competing team in their region and zone. They went from placing 5th and 6th at competitions out of 14 universities, to this year, being consistently in the top three placed teams against a total of 16 competing universities.
“We have come such a long way and our membership keeps growing,” Thome said. “We are beginning to get members that choose Ole Miss as their university because it now offers an Equestrian Club. Horseback riding is a popular sport nationally, and was missed by students on this campus until the creation of this new club.”
Other surrounding universities are also trying to help the Ole Miss group grow. Auburn University donated a horse named Captain to the Ole Miss Equestrian Club to kick-start the team.
Although the Equestrian Club has come very far in a short period of time, they need to progress to attract diverse members and remain competitive within the SEC and other universities.
The long drive to the proper training facilities hurts membership and the overall success of the riders. The club needs to build barn facilities closer to the Ole Miss Campus.
By practicing more often than once a week, riders would become more competitive, allowing Ole Miss to make it into regional and national competitions.
Schools like Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, and the University of Georgia allow riders to practice multiple times a week because their stables are close to campuses.
Student riders can progress in riding more quickly, along with strengthening and conditioning, since they don’t have to travel nearly as far. The horse and rider are a pair of athletes that must be prepared for the challenges of the sport.
“We definitely need our own horses because, right now, we use our trainer’s horses, and he is very generous with that, but having his horses do their job for his business and the team adds an additional strain on our trainer and us as a team,” said Thome.
By creating equestrian facilities near the Ole Miss campus, it would open doors for this university and be a positive addition to Lafayette County.
Currently without a stable, Ole Miss cannot host an equestrian competition, so Ole Miss riders can only participate at riding events sponsored by other universities. This means competing Ole Miss students drive two to six hours to get to regional competitions on weekends, which requires overnight accommodations in hotels.
Local Oxford stables would allow an elective course of horseback riding to be offered in the Ole Miss curriculum for all interested students. This could help grow club membership. Animal science programs could be developed at the university once livestock is available nearby. Community riding and outreach programs could also be offered to local area residents.
Currently, the biggest reason the Ole Miss Equestrian Club loses members is the commute to and from the riding facilities. It requires too much time for full-time students to make the round-trip for their lessons, and finding private transportation is difficult for those without a car on campus.
Without the proper funds, the Ole Miss Equestrian Club will not continue to grow. The team is barely able to survive with its limited membership dues, so there is no ability to buy land and build facilities closer to campus without private or university financial support.
Also, membership and diversity of the team is somewhat limited as there are no funds available for those students who cannot afford horseback riding, transportation and competing.
To date, the University of Mississippi has not been willing to fund or support an equestrian team, even though other area universities recognize and financially support similar teams on their campuses.
The Ole Miss riders are hoping for help and sizable donations in bringing their dream of obtaining land and building facilities to a reality in Oxford.
For information on how to donate: https://www.olemissequestrian.com/donations.