Our Sustainable Future: Equestrian Program

Sweet Briar’s equestrian program is one of the oldest in the nation and the most renowned among those at liberal arts colleges. In 2021, the Vixen riding teams captured both the ODAC Championship (their sixth) and the NCEA Single Discipline National Championship. Yet the program’s emphasis is not just on competition; it includes field riding, recreation, training and schooling of horses and the equine studies certificate program.

The equestrian program trains horsewomen of all skill levels, from beginning to advanced riders. Through riding, women learn the benefits of perseverance, discipline and teamwork, and gain confidence in themselves. As practiced at Sweet Briar, riding is another aspect of women’s leadership.

Over the next five years, we will elevate the equestrian program to an even higher level, as well as meet the needs and expectations of a rapidly increasing student body, through the following actions:

(a) Hiring a Veterinarian and Developing Additional Academic Course Offerings

Many leading riding programs with whom we compete for students—Emory & Henry, University of Findlay, Savannah College of Art and Design—have a veterinarian on staff. A staff vet would serve our on-campus animal population, spending 30-40 hours/month caring for both Sweet Briar’s and student-owned horses and 10 hours/month on other animals, such as the growing population on campus of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).

The vet would teach two courses per year in the academic program (such as animal nutrition, animal science, animal physiology), enabling the program to expand its academic offerings, potentially leading to a B.S. degree program in Equine Science. The vet will mentor students through independent study courses and assist with pre-vet advising; in future, we aspire for the vet to anchor an on-campus equine rehabilitation facility, offering experiential learning opportunities for students, generating revenue, and filling a regional need.

In addition to synergies with the biology program, the riding program’s expanded academic offerings will also intersect with our programs in business, art and sustainability (especially for the latter through the development of an aerated static pile composting system). The program may also build collaborations with psychology through the creation of an additional certificate program in Equine Assisted Learning/Leadership/Therapy.

(b) Facilities Improvements

As Sweet Briar’s enrollment has grown, so have the numbers of students interested in riding. In recent years, over one-third of our students identified as riders, either competitively or for recreation and that percentage is likely to increase. In order to meet the student demand, augment programming and thereby strengthen its national reputation, we must continue to renovate and expand the riding center’s facilities.

In 2021, we completed the first phase of the riding center’s improvements. This $2.1 million project involved renovations to the main riding stable (now renamed the Howell Lykes Colton ’38 Stables), renovations to the Bailey Room and adjacent offices, and landscaping improvements.

One of the program’s pressing needs is for more all-weather teaching spaces to accommodate the growing numbers of students who ride. The current indoor arena can only accommodate two riding lessons at a time. A second (and smaller) indoor ring will increase space for riding lessons, along with providing an appropriate teaching space for the veterinarian, as well as a better and safer area for shoeing horses.

More riders mean more horses—both a need for additional College-owned horses and a greater number of student-owned horses that are boarded. We currently have the capacity for 80 horses in our facilities. The number of stalls may be adequate for the next year, but we will need more turnout spaces. This will require wooden fencing to section off several fields into smaller spaces for paddock and field grazing rotation, and additional run-in sheds in the fields so the horses can live outside comfortably and safely.

Other needed riding center renovations include a new roof and sides for the covered competition arena, upgrades to the outdoor riding rings, auxiliary stables, a combined indoor/outdoor viewing area and others.

(c) Auxiliary Programs

Expanding auxiliary programs throughout the academic year, and particularly in the summer, will help market the equestrian program and generate revenue. Current programming includes hosting horse shows and clinics, which bring well-known professionals to campus. In the summers, the program offers riding during the weekends of graduation and reunion, and summer camps during two long weekends.

Programming must be expanded. Examples of new programming ideas include an “All Things Horse” annual conference, featuring leading professionals; and hosting horse shows for profit, as well as several U. S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) programs, including Certified Trainer programs and Emerging Athletes programs. We could offer a “Boot Camp” for equestrians. We would bring in a group of professionals to run the event, which would be inspired by Daniel Stewart’s Boot Camp programming (featuring riding, sports psychology, athlete nutrition, athlete fitness, etc.). Adults and junior riders can bring their own horses, and we could add another weeklong camp for riders on a variety of levels.