Equestrians Share a Love of Horses—and Camaraderie

Allegheny College junior Callie Garlick has loved horses for as long as she can remember.

“I begged my mom to let me take riding lessons at a young age, and the obsession has only grown from there,” says Garlick, president of Allegheny’s Equestrian Club. “I got involved with the club because I knew that I wanted to continue riding horses when I got to college, and because I wanted the opportunity to horse show, which I was never able to do before.”

Garlick, a biology major with minors in English and psychology, not only leads the Equestrian Club, but also is part of the college’s 11-member Equestrian Team. She has enjoyed success, having placed first in Novice Flat (a category of competition) at a competition at Slippery Rock University in October. The Allegheny equestrians tied for first as a team at Slippery Rock, and individually five members—Garlick, Griffin Sullivan, Alex Doran, Megan Newman, and Ashlee Rowles—placed first in six categories of the competition. Three riders from the team—Doran, Sullivan, and Hayley Diemer—have already qualified for the regional competition in the spring.

Meanwhile, the entire Equestrian Club was cheering them on as they competed.

Being on the Equestrian Team requires attending at least eight practices a semester at Brenric Stables, a half-hour drive away from campus, and competition at events. The Equestrian Club was established to accommodate a separate group of students who still have the interest but aren’t willing to commit to the total practice and competition time that comes with being part of the team.

The club section of the organization allows members to take advantage of the riding infrastructure—and the camaraderie. Being able to hang out at movie nights, game nights, attend clinics, and volunteer at farms around the area are major attractions for being part of the Equestrian Club.

“The club/team is always able to have fun with each other, whether we are taking lessons, selling doughnuts, or just getting dinner together,” says Garlick.

Most recently, according to team captain Bailey Kudla-Williams, the team and club got together for an ice cream outing and a Halloween pumpkin carving. They also practice together, as each lesson can include a mix of both team and club members. The club is already planning its end-of-semester holiday party.

“The main part of [socializing] this semester is pretty much our lessons,” Kudla-Williams says, “because we are competing so often, so we don’t have that much time to branch out … but a lot of people do hang out on their own, outside of lessons. We’ve had a lot of team dinners. And a couple club members showed up, too, which was really nice, so we could talk about things that aren’t just competition.”

When the team is preparing to compete, its coach, Halli Bidwell, plays a crucial role. Her 14-year tenure is one of the longest standing coach-club relationships at Allegheny. Bidwell instructs the group in technique, including positioning of the wrists, back, and how the heels are settled in the stirrups. Additionally, riders are evaluated on how comfortable they look on a horse. During competitions, team members ride horses provided by the hosts, rather than the ones they’ve been riding in practice. Becoming instantly comfortable with a 1,000-pound animal is a skill that takes years to develop.

The team shares the stables and coach with other colleges in their region, including Mercyhurst University and Edinboro University.

Other schools in the region, says Kudla-Williams, include “Seton Hill, which is NCAA, so they’re a varsity sport, so they get a lot of attention and a lot of funding. But it’s pretty much Seton Hill and then West Virginia University. Then us, Pitt, and Slippery Rock kind of bounce back and forth on who gets that fourth seed. But we’re usually consistently third or fourth in the region.”

Moving forward this academic year, the team has two competitions in November, and two in February. As the team gets closer and closer to regionals, and more members begin to qualify, the entire club will be cheering them on.

“I love every aspect of it,” Garlick says, “I have met some of my best friends on campus through the Equestrian Club, and I have met many more awesome people from other teams.”