Giddy Up Bulldogs: The Equestrian Club Calls for New Riders


Celestine Epps

Simon and Butter During a club practice on Jan. 27 at Over the River Farm, Canton.

Celestine J. Epps, [email protected], Arts & Features writer

The team consists of seven sophisticated riders suited up with clean boots, fitted helmets and fully tacked horses as they enter the arena at Over the River Farms in Canton.

“Virginia convinced me to join the team,” said Casey Simon, a member of the club.

Simon is a sophomore returning to the club for her second semester with plans to compete in the walk-trot limit class this spring.

The Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) allows college students to participate in shows by providing horses to teams at random during competitive events and reducing the financial stress of having to board their own horses. UNCA is part of the Zone 4, Region 5 division where they go against 10  schools located from the southern border of Virginia to Winston-Salem. 

Butters, covered by her beautiful blonde and yellow coat and calm demeanor, is the barn’s sweetheart horse and Simon’s favorite thus far.

Once a week, everyone takes one-on-one 30-minute lessons with Julia Collins, the head coach of the team. Some teammates rotate horses and others stick with one based on Collins’ direction. As each rider progresses through their training, they will be chosen based on their skill level to participate in the walk-trot, hunter-jumper or over the fence limit class, where each individual will be judged based on their horsemanship.

“The girls have worked so hard considering the hit we took when COVID started. We’re so excited to get more UNCA students involved,” Collins said.

Horse shows are timed competitions where the judges score riders based on their abilities to complete courses, as well as their canter, dressage, quality of jumps throughout the course and horse control.

IHSA competitions take place during the fall and spring semesters, but riders are welcome to take lessons on the farm throughout the off-season. Despite the recent icy weather, the team continues their training in preparation for their first show Feb. 19-20 at UNC Greensboro.

Members Simon and Bartlett both heard about the club through word of mouth during their freshman year. Despite Bartlett being on the team for three years, the sentiment remains that many students are unaware of the opportunity. Chelsea Bartlett, UNCA’s Equestrian Club president and team captain, said it takes great team camaraderie and support to prepare for practices and competitions.

“Things like making sure the team is ready for their classes with clean boots and proper attire, making sure each team member has completed IHSA paperwork and paid their fees, attending coach meetings and observing the different horses’ characteristics so that the team is prepared when we draw a horse we’ve never ridden or met,” Bartlett said.

The bond club riders have with each other and the horses they care for is a key component to their success as a team. The Equestrian Club is hoping to appeal to more students with the support of their farm family.

“I love riding on a team because our team is like a little family, there’s so much camaraderie and we really root for each other,” Bartlett said. “I hope that by the time I graduate, the UNCA equestrian team has a larger presence both on social media and on campus so the team can continue to grow and progress.”

Bartlett and teammates promote the club through social media, tabling events, flyers and sharing contact information to reach students both on and off campus, as well as prospective UNCA students.

Over the River Farms boards 16 horses and shares the training grounds with Western Carolina University’s equestrian team, a fellow competitor in the region.

“Our team is really close-knit. One of my main requirements for the team is that we all accept, support, uplift and encourage each other and our sister team at Western Carolina University,” Bartlett said.

Individuals have to develop a rapport and build trust not only with these majestic creatures, but with fellow teammates. Bartlett said UNCA actually has an advantage with its small team, as it allows them to give greater opportunities to anyone who wants to join the group and learn.

“The fact that we are a smaller team means that, for the most part, anyone who wants to show is able to do so, which is pretty unique compared to most collegiate equestrian teams,” she said.

The Equestrian Club provides a unique experience that allows students to learn about horse management and interact with a number of horses, thus improving their balance and coordination as they progress on the team.

“I love just getting to groom and spend time with the horses. They’re just such wonderful animals. The barn feels like a second home. I love how every horse has a different personality with different quirks, so you have to ride each of them differently. And I love working on the minute little details of my riding, and feeling like I’m constantly learning and improving,” Bartlett said.