The Sport of Horses
West Virginia colleges and universities aren’t horsing around when it comes to teaching young people the skills needed for horsemanship in the 21st century.
West Virginia University
“I’ve been riding since I was 5 years old,” says Morgan Squires, a West Virginia University student from New Jersey. “When I got to school I knew I wanted to be on the equestrian team.” Twice a week, riders like Morgan travel a winding road to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to train at the WVU coach’s facility, Lazy J Stables. The award-winning equestrian club has about 60 members competing in two styles—English or Western.
Morgan started riding with her mother many years ago. “For Mother’s Day she decided she wanted to start riding. She bought helmets and boots for me and her, and we started riding together and we still ride together.”
At WVU, riders of all skill levels are invited to join the team as full-time students. Morgan, the team’s captain, says they are making a national name for themselves as they continue to train hard before their shows, which take place in Reedsville.
“The WVU Hunt Seat and Western teams place consistently in the top 20 (of 300) schools participating in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals,” says Dr. Holly Spooner, WVU Extension equine specialist for the state. She says riding in this competition is tricky because students do not get to choose their horse. Rather, horses are drawn from a hat.
The English and Western teams compete separately, though WVU recognizes the group as one club. English, or Hunt Seat, is based off of a classic model for horseback riding, which has been adapted over the years. English riders compete in riding pants, tall black boots, tailored jackets, and helmets, and ride on the flat or jump over fences. Western riding is based on the rider’s showmanship, but with a different set of criteria for appearance. “Western riders ride in chaps, flashy shirts, and cowboy hats,” Morgan says.
Bethany College Equestrian Club offers competitive riding opportunities for students in three divisions—Hunt Seat, Dressage, and Western. The club is coming off another successful season of competition in Region 3, which includes 16 club teams in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Pegasus Farm Equestrian Center in Wheeling is home to the Bethany College Equestrian Program. The center is a 160-acre farm that specializes in sport horse breeding with a focus on superior movement, correct conformation, and presence. The center provides instruction for competitive riders in three-day eventing, dressage, and hunter-jumper.
Marshall University has a newer equestrian team that also focuses on Hunt Seat riding. To prepare for competitions, riders train at Royal Winds Farm in Ona.
The Equestrian Club competes in Hunt Seat with a show season lasting from mid-September through the end of April. Marshall competes at 10 Hunt Seat shows a year.