From schoolwork to saddling up, the life of a college equestrian is very busy. Many equine programs require a minimum of 15 hours a week beyond the average student. Then, students have to juggle personal training workouts, part- and full- time jobs, community service, campus activities and extracurricular clubs that quickly fill up their schedules.
“For most of us, practice is five times a week or sometimes twice a day depending on the schedule,” says Courtney Gardner, an agribusiness major at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) and former rodeo queen. “It was hard as a first-year student, but it’s manageable if you put your priorities in line.”
As someone who has ridden horses her entire life, being a member of the stock horse team was the perfect way for Gardner to expand her riding skills, while also pursuing non-equine studies.
Similarly, Melissa Griffith, a 2015 graduate from SFA with a forest wildlife management major and animal science minor, has been riding since age six, but she had never rode western until college.
“Watching some of the students practice one day, I decided that I really wanted to try a sliding stop,” Griffith says. “I mentioned this to my professor, and he stepped out of the saddle and put me on his horse right there. After those 10 minutes riding a Reiner, I was hooked. I’m really grateful for the equine opportunities I’ve received at the university. I never would’ve been introduced to the ranch horse world otherwise.”
Success in Equine Studies
For collegiate equestrian athletes like Hannah Valigura, the opportunity to advance in both riding skills and technique, in combination with equine studies, takes competitions to a new level.
A native Texan from Austin, Valigura is currently studying equine business and industry at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU). She also competes on the university’s equestrian team. Bringing 13 years of riding experience with her to college, she decided to expand her abilities and learn to ride western.
Meanwhile, her studies expanded her knowledge of career paths within the industry. Taking courses in equine science and production, reproductive physiology and equine selection have shaped her future. She now has plans to earn her doctorate degree in equine reproduction and breeding.
“You don’t have to be the world’s greatest horseman to be in the horse industry,” says Amanda Love, head coach of the equestrian team. Love also teaches hands-on horse classes at WTAMU like beginning and advanced horsemanship and equine behavioral modification.
Whether in the classroom or the arena, Love emphasizes honing animal communication skills, developing a good work ethic, and setting and achieving goals. Having won the Intercollegiate Horse Shows (IHSA) Association National Championship in 2013 — the team’s third since 1994 — is an impressive accolade. However, equally noteworthy is that all members of WTAMU’s equestrian team maintain a 3.3 GPA. This demonstrates the fact that students are not only riding well but also studying hard.
“Our goal is to help our students find as much success as possible, whatever that may be for them individually,” Love says. “Whether that’s good grades or competitive riding, our students learn they are capable of much more than they thought.”