The Randolph-Macon College Equestrian program, which was founded in 2010, continues to grow and thrive. There are three components of the program: a club, an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team, and an Eventing team. Dana Lesesne, director of the program, says all three options offer unique opportunities for riders. In all, 35 students—R-MC's largest group ever—will ride this year.
Riders who don't want to compete can join the equestrian club.
"If they just love being around horses, want to learn or improve their skills, the club is a great option," says Lesesne, who has been riding horses most of her life. "Lots of club members have never ridden before, and after they join, some choose to compete as members of the IHSA team, but they don't have to. It's their choice." Riders train and take lessons at Coventry Farm, which is close to campus and includes three arenas.
Points earned by riders are cumulative, and the team, part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), travels together to competitions within Zone 4, Region 4.
"IHSA shows are fun and exciting, with competition at a range of levels, from beginner through experienced," explains Lesesne. "Points are awarded equally for place finishes at all levels, making this is a sport in which every member can make a difference." Melissa Haley and John West, who are based at Coventry Farm, coach the students in hunt seat equitation.
The team competes against University of Richmond, VCU, William & Mary, Longwood University, Old Dominion University, Christopher Newport and Liberty University.
The Eventing Team
Eventing team members are "enormously committed," says Lesesne. Training and competition are rigorous—and often stressful for both rider and horse. Lesesne makes it her mission to ensure that riders are well-prepared for the demands of the sport. Unlike club or IHSA team members, eventers must bring their own horses with them.
"Eventing team students are extremely disciplined," says Lesesne. "It may sound crazy to non-horse people to have a horse with you at college, but for eventers, going out to the barn is calming. No matter what things students are juggling on campus, they make time for their horses and lessons." Riders are responsible for conditioning and grooming their horses, and for the care of their equipment.
The team, which is sanctioned by the United States Equestrian Association (USEA), trains and takes lessons at Hillbrook Farm, a 160-acre farm 10 miles from campus, under Coach Mimi Combs, who was an alternate on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team.
The Heart of Horse Country
Lesesne describes Virginia as "the ultimate riding place—the heart of horse county," and she's duly proud of what the Equestrian program has accomplished thus far.
"We were the only team last year in our region that had riders named to the IHSA All-Academic First-Team (3.8 or higher GPA)," she says. "We haven't had anyone go to nationals—yet. I'm confident that we will." When she meets with prospective students, Lesesne often brings along a current rider.
"They are the best ambassadors for the college," she says. "As one rider told a prospective student, it's totally fine to go to class in your boots and britches!"
The Equestrian program is grateful to Penny Chenery and the Roemer Foundation, who, through their generous support, have helped strengthen and grow the program since 2010.