After defunding, Alabama equestrian club seeking help for survival

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By WVUA 23 News Reporter Sarah Erickson

The University of Alabama’s Western Equestrian Club needs help staying afloat after it was dropped last year from the school’s athletics division.

In an attempt to continue doing the sport they love under the UA banner, the athletes created the University of Alabama Western Equestrian Club. Other UA Sport Club programs include hockey, rugby and water polo. What separates these programs from UA Athletics-sponsored programs is who’s in charge and what’s at stake: Sport Clubs are organized and led by student officers, don’t offer scholarships and aren’t funded by UA Athletics.

That means that like Alabama’s 30-odd sport clubs, the equestrian club and its members are competing out of their own wallets.

Last year, UA Western Equestrian Club Vice President Abigayle Kneebone collected 20,000 signatures on a Change.org petition asking the university to reconsider supporting the team. Despite the public support, UA did not change its mind.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic put a big damper on fundraising when they’ve needed it the most, team members said. As a result, they’ve lost their practice barn, several horses and even the therapeutic riding program UA once supported.

“Out of the seven team horses we had, we were only able to keep three, which came under our care this past spring,” Kneebone said.

One of those horses recently retired, Kneebone said, meaning the team is left with two horses the club can practice with and use in competition.

The team created a GoFundMe on Friday, Oct. 8, requesting help with their plight. Their goal is to raise $5,500, and as of Oct. 13, they’re at a little under $2,000 in donations.

“It’s definitely been really rocky,” Kneebone said. “We’ve had a lot of setbacks with the university because we have to get everything approved by them. We’ve had some wins, but it’s been really hard.”

Some students who grew up dreaming of joining the collegiate team were left heartbroken at the sudden change.

“I was thinking about being on the team, but once I found out that funding had been cut I realized it wasn’t the best decision for me because of the lack of horses,” said UA freshman Brenna Ledbetter. “They’re practicing maybe twice a month per person. I just didn’t think that would be very effective for me.”

The University of Alabama made the following statement Oct. 12:

“A thorough analysis including program review and discussions with staff and student leaders of the program led to its current status as a student-led sport club, similar to more than 30 other sport clubs at UA and many of the equestrian program’s competitors at other institutions. Evaluating spending during times of economic downturn is a challenge, and UA continues to prioritize the needs of our students, their academic success and holistic wellbeing in these decisions.”

You can support UA’s Western Equestrian Club by donating to their GoFundMe right here.

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