Horsing Around

Jennifer Dwoskin

There are probably some Villanovans out there who have never heard of the University’s equestrian club, a non-competitive club sport that is gradually gaining popularity among students.

Not sure what the word equestrian means? Don’t fret. If you’re not a horse fanatic, you probably have never heard the term before. Equestrian is a label that is placed on anything and everything that is related to horses and the sport of horseback riding, which is exactly the equestrian club’s area of expertise.

What started out as merely a handful of young women who engaged in weekly rendezvous at a local stable soon evolved into a University club sport in the spring of 2001, thanks to juniors Amanda Theodore, Tina Chiara and Caitlin Fouratt. After they set up a table at the activities fair, participation from both men and women has been on a steady incline.

Unlike some resume-friendly clubs that meet once a month for 15 minutes or so, VUEC travels to Greylyn Farms in Malvern every Tuesday and Wednesday night for group horseback-riding lessons. There, according to Chiara, the horses vary in capability, the facilities are exceptional and the trainer, Susan Walker, is both enthusiastic and accommodating. Usually, the group departs for the stable at 7 p.m. and does not return to Villanova until 10 p.m.

Once at Greylyn, students not only ride, but they also groom, tack and clean up after their horses. Time-consuming, though not tedious, the work is what distinguishes horseback riding from other sports. In place of a ball, there is an animal that one must care for and build a trust with.

“If you want to get somewhere with horses, you have to treat them with kindness,” Walker said. “The horse is in a sense your ‘team member.'”

Seem like a lot of work? It is not mandatory to attend both lessons, nor is it mandatory to attend even one lesson a week.

“We understand that the club takes a backseat to academics,” Chiara said. “Villanova is an excellent school and we understand that people have papers to write and exams to study for.”

“It can be as much or as little commitment as you want,”Theodore added.

Still, the officers of VUEC encourage all interested students to participate. Even if the actual sport of horseback riding is not for you, there are other ways to get involved in VUEC (the word equestrian encompasses more than just the sport). VUEC embraces all aspects of the horse world, even volunteerism.

Every Saturday, a group of VUEC members go to a nearby stable to participate in a program called Reins of Life.

“Reins of Life is an established therapeutic horseback riding program for children with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism and attention deficit disorder,” Theodore said. “The sport of horseback riding is physically beneficial in that it develops muscle tone, balance and coordination while mentally developing confidence, independence and trust.”

In the future, VUEC hopes to begin workshops on equine education for students, as well as a possible “Yoga for Equestrians” workout and relaxation.