Equestrian team saddles up for competition

First year graduate student Elizabeth Tyson (left) and junior Whitney Pacil ride their horses side by side Jan. 24. Both girls are founding members for the UNA equestrian team.

One student’s adoration of horses led to a new sport on campus.

The UNA equestrian team took time to establish, but due to proactive movements, the team is official. The squad started competition last fall.

Junior Whitney Pacil and graduate student Elizabeth Hughes Tyson are the only two riders for the equestrian team. The team’s coach, Amy Smith, said in an email she had nothing but positive remarks when referring to them.

“Whitney and Elizabeth have proven to be amazing young women,” Smith said. “They are incredibly talented, absolutely open to instruction, persistent in pursuing their goals and, most importantly, great sports who aren’t afraid to help fellow competitors and enjoy sharing their knowledge with others.”

Pacil drew inspiration to start an equestrian club from other colleges that established their own teams. She said the process was not easy.

“With last year being my first year here, I didn’t exactly know how to go about the process, so it started out as an RSO,” Pacil said. “After a year, we were seeking funding to get a team started. With the lack of funding, it was hard to find a coach because it was not a paid position.”

Pacil said Smith reached out to her, asking to become the team’s coach. Pacil said Smith’s efforts are commendable.

“I think what makes her a good coach is that she’s very understanding,” she said. “She puts her all into it, even though she may not get that much out of it.”

UNA’s team participates in equitation riding, which focuses on the rider instead of the horse. Equitation riding is technical, Pacil said.

The horses used for competition reside at the Future Performance Horses barn in Cullman, Alabama.

Pacil said horseback riding is a mental and physical challenge, as it requires the ability to multitask.

“Your legs are actively working all the time,” she said. “The seat helps control the pace of the horse, your hands are adjusting the rein length and your fingers are talking to the horse’s mouth. You’re thinking for yourself and the horse.”

Junior Quintin Clark said he was unaware UNA had an equestrian team, but is interested in following it.

“I rode a horse when I was young, but nothing competitive,” Clark said. “I can definitely see myself supporting the equestrian team now that I’m informed.”

Smith said she has big plans for the team down the road.

“I would love to see the equestrian team become a recruitment avenue for the university,” she said. “My goal is to develop the program into something so successful and admirable that students want to come to UNA to ride with us.”

The equestrian team’s next competition is Feb. 5-6 against Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.