By SAMANTHA BENNETT
Have you ever seen a fellow students walk into your classroom wearing horseback riding attire with tall black boots, often with mud on them, and wondered why they are attending class dressed in this manner? They are likely a member of University of Mary Washington equestrian team, one of the school’s oldest sports teams.
The UMW riding team is based out of Fredericksburg’s Hazelwild Farm Equestrian Center, and has been for over 40 years. The team is preparing for one of Fredericksburg’s most popular horse shows scheduled on Saturday Sept. 29. The horse show is an important fundraiser for the team who depends on outside contributions to fund the team’s expenses.
Fundraising is an extremely important part of keeping the equestrian team alive and a part of the university’s athletic department. During the 2016-17 academic year, the team was in danger of being dissolved by the university. It came as a total surprise to the team members, many of whom chose to attend UMW because of the team, that the university could no longer afford to fund Hazelwild Farm as the sponsoring horse farm.
“At first I was shocked that it was happening and then I was mad. Why couldn’t the university’s athletic department give our team more money to help with the costs? The university affords maintaining many other teams that cost a lot of money. Why couldn’t that money be moved around to help us just temporarily?” said senior Alex Buchanan.
“I was really sad and worried because the team is such a big part of my college experience.” said junior Mary Margaret.
Soon after the announcement, Fredericksburg’s local newspaper, The Free Lance-Star, published an article about the impending loss of the team.
“The decision to downsize one of [Hazelwild Foundation’s] many programs was difficult because of our long-standing relationship with the University of Mary Washington,” said head coach Teresa Seay in the article.
The article was posted on social media and was shared all over the close-knit equestrian community, and astonished many horse lovers. Students from all over the nation come to UMW to join the well-known and well established riding team. It is the only Virginia state university that has a riding team that is sponsored by the university’s athletic department and has a stellar reputation. All other state university riding teams are offered as only a club. When the news got out, many prominent equestrian supporters, like Betty and Ernie Oare, stepped up to help come up with a solution.
This was how the benefit show got its beginning and helped to save the team from being dissolved from the university’s athletic department. All of the proceeds go directly towards the UMW riding team, raising funds that go towards the team’s show entry fees and buses to travel to the shows that are held at surrounding Universities.
“The school and the farm tried very hard to come up with a solution. But the athletic department just could not find more money for the increasing costs of the riding team. Hazelwild has to have an extra 8-10 horses on hand for the team. It is expensive to feed and care for so many horses.” said Seay.
Assistant coach Michelle Mardeusz went on to explain that one very concerned alumni, who wanted to remain anonymous, was eager to come up with a creative way to keep the UMW riding team at Hazelwild Farm and suggested the benefit show. Mardeusz went on to explain that the alumni did not want to be recognized because she did not want to take away from such an incredible idea.
The benefit show is state and locally rated, earning riders winning points which help win year end awards. These shows also help local riders work towards going to VHSA and BHSA finals. Hazelwild offers similar shows all summer long, but the UMW benefit show is the only one sponsored by the university’s equestrian team.
If you have ever been curious about horseback riding or how competitive horse shows work, the team welcomes you to come check it out at the end of this month. So put on some boots or shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty and spend the day at the farm. There will be a great food truck at the barn if you care to bring a little cash with you.