UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA HALTS EQUESTRIAN TEAM FUNDING

Equestrian Team

By WVUA 23 Reporter Grace Campbell

Last week, the University of Alabama’s Equestrian Team was having a regular team meeting when it was hit with the sudden news that UA will stop funding both the hunt seat team and Western disciplines team. Those teams will become a club program, meaning less funding and fewer reasons to join the team.

Lauren Woods, captain of the hunt seat team, said horseback riding is a sport where people have to support one another, and without the university’s support, some students will go elsewhere.

“That’s one of the things I’m really disappointed about, because the university in doing this is turning away students who are dedicated, hardworking, strong athletes and that translates directly into the classroom,” Woods said.

The team started a petition and has already received more than 13,000 signatures in the hopes of showing UA President Stuart Bell how many people care about the team.

“It’s to show them that we exist, we’re here and we matter,” Woods said.

But the team doesn’t just compete, Woods said. They also help with the university’s therapeutic riding and research programs.

“We’re here, and we compete, and we put 110% every day that we’re out here,” Western member Kylee Campbell said. “We also help children here in Tuscaloosa, we’re a community and we care about the community. We give back any chance, anyway that we can to help with those kids and with the families.”

Members of the team said they’re not sure what will happen with the therapeutic program.

Funding for the Western team stops in May, and funding for the hunt seat team stops in May 2021.

“We might be overlooked sometimes, but we are just as impactful as any other school out there, any other sport out there,” Campbell said.

Becoming a club program puts the responsibility of the horses’ care on the students in the program. Several team members said they can’t afford those potential costs, so instead they’ll transfer to a school where horseback riding is funded by the university. Auburn University has a school-supported, varsity equestrian program.

“If we were to get pushed to the club level and not have the funding by the university and not have outside funding, then I would probably be forced to change schools,” Campbell said.

An alumna of the team’s mother, Nicole Cimbura, said other schools in the Southeastern Conference have growing and blossoming equestrian programs, and believes UA’s equestrian team could be just as successful if the school continues to put forth an effort.

“I don’t think the university is giving it the opportunity to grow like it could,” Cimbura said. “If we have that leadership and such, this program could grow and be a huge highlight for the school.”

The University of Alabama released the following statement regarding the change:

The UA equestrian program will continue as a sport club in the Division of Student Life in the same manner and model successfully used by more than 30 other sport clubs on campus and many of the equestrian program’s competitors at other institutions.

Oversight of the program transferred to Student Life following a full review and audit to ensure both sustainability and success. Transition plans are underway, including care of the horses, utilizing space at top-level barns in the area and creating an endowed support fund to assist student participants with expenses.
 
This transition plan provides the greatest opportunity for the program’s long-term viability and success. 

 

Head coach of the University of Mississippi’s equestrian team Beanie Cone said Auburn’s equestrian team raises a significant amount of money because horseback riding is a sport of the wealthy.

“They raise more money than any other coach or team: football, basketball, baseball, than any other team at Auburn,” Cone said.

The Western discipline made team history by winning their first-ever high point team show and members said they feel their success is being pushed under the rug.

“It’s just really sad because we have done so well, and we are a successful team and that it’s like we’re working so hard for what?” Woods said.

Changing the varsity team to a club program could impact more than just Alabama’s equestrian athletes.

“For the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association you have to have 50 riders competing, and right now we have 54 competing,” said Auburn equestrian team head coach Lisa Dorsey. “If we cut the Alabama team, next year technically our region is not large enough to compete in the Western discipline. So, it’s not only affecting Alabama, it’s affecting everyone who’s competing. So, it is really important we hang onto this Alabama team.”

The team said they feel awful for the horses, because they are also being impacted by the decision.

“Some of them need to retire,” Woods said. “They can’t just be stored, or put away or reused. It costs money to retire them, and then how are we going to find them another home?”

Team members said they hope they’ll get a definite reason regarding why they’re losing their funding, but they also want to show those in charge how many people support the team.

The team is hosting a Change.org petition requesting their reinstatement as an official team here: https://www.change.org/p/dr-stuart-r-bell-save-the-alabama-equestrian-team

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