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New equestrian club to raise awareness, support of program

Students learn how to ride Western saddle.

"A horse is a horse, of course of course…" But, did you know that eight horses call Strawberry Banks their home? Or, that Hampton University offers the only Western saddle-style program anywhere along the East Coast?

Since its inception in 2002, HU has offered an introductory level Western Equestrian course. Offered by the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) and taught by instructor Suzie Merrick, the course provides students with the basic knowledge and experiences of beginning Western horsemanship.

Now a group of 25 students has formed the new Horse Sense Club to raise awareness and support for the HU equestrian program. The club also allows students opportunities to advance their skills sets with the horses.

When Juanita Losier, a biology major from Philadelphia, Penn., first arrived at HU, she was unaware of HU's equestrian program. Having past riding experience on an English saddle, Losier was excited to learn about the course. "Once I started to know about the program, I asked why it wasn't well represented on campus," she said.

As the new club's president, Losier is working to spread awareness by placing posters inside each dormitory, posting an ad on the campus television channel, creating a bulletin board display in Holland Hall, launching a penny-drive fundraiser, and participating in the Homecoming Parade.

"We want more people to become aware that we do have a horse program and they (the students) do enjoy being out here. This group will help in doing that," explained Gail Bishop, stables manager and club advisor.

The club offers students opportunities to advance their riding skills.

The club allows students to practice and learn more advanced riding, maintenance and grooming skills beyond the introductory level course. In addition, club members assist introductory-level students in improving their equestrian skills. For the HU Homecoming Parade, club members demonstrated new drills to the crowd.

"For the parade, the group was out here and, in just a little bit of time, they taught the horses drills to show to Dr. Harvey," explained Bishop happily. "The students want an advanced equestrian class and this club shows that they are committed and interested and how much they enjoyed the class."

The Horse Sense Club is also focused on raising funds for a new riding tractor and an eight-horse trailer. A riding tractor would provide an easier means of spreading manure and grass seed. A large trailer would offer an easy way to transport the horses to a safe location in case of a hurricane and would allow for students to travel with the horses to local horse trails.

Meanwhile, the horses would benefit from a change of pace also. "The horses are getting a little bored after six years of being here in the same location," added Bishop with a chuckle.

Losier also sees the trailer as a learning opportunity. "It is something that could be added to the course's lesson plan. Students could teach the horses how to enter and exit the trailer," she said.

To join the club, students must have taken or be enrolled in the Western Equestrian course or demonstrate they are familiar with Western-style riding. Dues are $10 per year.

So, the next time you need an brief escape from campus, visit the horses at Strawberry Banks. The group is always looking for volunteers to help clean the stables, repair the fences or feed the horses. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation, please call Gail Bishop at (757) 637-2460 or Juanita Losier at (267) 625-9578.

-Alison Phillips