Balancing College and Eventing: A Success Story from the University of Louisville

Paige Thompson is a 22-year-old two-star eventer who co-founded the University of Louisville Eventing Team in the spring of 2017. A graduating senior this spring, she was recently named the 2020 Robert G. Lawrence award winner by the UofL Equine Industry Program. The story of how she managed competing two upper-level horses while managing the team and keeping up an impressive GPA is nothing short of inspiring — and we hope it inspires other aspiring student equestrians! Learn more about the USEA’s Intercollegiate Eventing Program here

Paige Thompson and Wreckless of Zipping (Cole). Photo by Xpress Foto.

In the fall of 2016 I arrived in Louisville, Kentucky with my two horses Cole and Mikey. After getting them settled into their new beautiful farm, my parents helped me move into my new dorm at the University of Louisville.

From a young age I always knew I wanted a career with horses, however my parents had also made it very clear that I was expected to receive a college education. When looking at schools, UofL quickly became my top choice. UofL has the unique Equine Industry Program, which allows students to receive a full bachelor’s degree in equine business.

On top of that, I knew the event trainer Lauren Ferguson was local to the area. I had met Lauren during high school when I was involved in the Area VIII Young Rider Program. She was extremely helpful during camps and clinics, so I knew she would offer my horses and I a great program to be a part of. Being able to continue competing my horses while going to school was a part of the deal with my parents.

There was never a question of selling the horses when it came time to go to college.  I am extremely lucky to have great parents that support my riding, but they have always had one condition: school comes first.

Paige Thompson and Magic Mike (Mikey). Photo by Lori Thompson.

The transition to college is a notoriously difficult one. However, I found that having my horses there with me from the beginning made it easier. I did not know anyone going into UofL, so being able to have a safe familiar place to go to everyday was extremely helpful. Since I got my first horse Cole at the age of 11, I have been going out to the barn everyday to ride and take care of him. So for me, making time to get out to the barn everyday was easy, it was a priority. In fact, I found that the more open-structured class schedule of college was a breath of fresh air.

As equestrians, most of us learn time management skills from young age, and college is the time to put those skills to use. Throughout my four years here, I did my best to schedule my classes as close together as possible so I would be able to spend all morning at the barn and all afternoon on campus, or vice versa. Additionally, I would try to schedule my classes all on Tuesdays/Thursdays or Mondays/Wednesdays in order to miss minimal class when it came time to travel to events on the weekends.

I was grateful to be welcomed into the Lauren Ferguson Event Team, which was filled with friendly faces; however I needed to get to know my fellow UofL students better. There was one thing missing from UofL when I came here: an eventing team. I decided there was no reason why this school shouldn’t have one, it is surrounded by event barns, and we have a hunt seat team, western team, saddle seat team, and polo team, so why not eventing?

The Equine Industry Program is a fairly small program, which made it easy to get to know everyone in it. Through my equine classes I knew of a few other girls who were into eventing, so I decided to reach out to them to see if they would be interested in helping me start an eventing team.

Paige Thompson and Wreckless of Zipping (Cole). Photo by Lori Thompson.

After some hard work establishing ourselves as a recognized student organization (or club) with UofL, we started the Louisville Eventing Team in the spring of 2017. Our new team started out small with just four members my freshman year, but now at the end of my senior year we are up to twelve and continuing to grow. I have served as President of the team throughout my time here, and have been extremely proud to see how much it has grown in such a short period of time.

We have worked to bring two more intercollegiate events to Area VIII, hosting challenges at both Spring Bay H.T. and Flying Cross Farm H.T. Last spring we went to our first Intercollegiate Championships at Chatt Hills in May and placed 6th out of 22 teams. The Louisville Eventing Team is made up of a great group of hardworking girls who have become some of my closest friends. I know they will continue to do fantastic things after I graduate this spring.

Paige Thompson and Wreckless of Zipping (Cole). Photo by Lori Thompson.

Now I was managing a team, competing two upper level horses, and maintaining a 3.6 GPA. Do not get me wrong, this is not easy. My trainer Lauren experienced the many mental breakdowns I would have at the barn when I was feeling overwhelmed. She would always do a great job of calming me down, reassuring me I was doing my best juggling everything.

Sometimes I would feel as though I wasn’t spending enough time with my horses, and other times I would feel like I hadn’t been focusing on my school work enough. When I do something, I want to do it well, which caused me to put a lot of pressure on myself both as a student and a rider. But as I learned throughout college, everything is a balance.

It is important to stick to a schedule for your horses, however it can become flexible when all of a sudden there’s a paper due tomorrow that you forgot about. I have learned is that it is okay to break down sometimes, but cry about it and then move on. Dwelling on how much you have to do isn’t going to help you get it done.

Paige Thompson and Magic Mike (Mikey). Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

My time in school with my horses has had many ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. There were times where I felt completely defeated like when both Cole and Mikey sustained soft tissue injuries at the same time. However, I learned that I was surrounded by great people who were there to help me through anything. Lauren gave me the ride on her horse Slewdelu in order to keep me in the show ring, and I was able to compete him for two years up through the CCI2*-L level.

My fantastic vet Dr. Laura Werner helped me rehab my horses in order to come back better than ever. Cole went on to do two more CCI2*-Ls, and we competed in our first Intermediate horse trial last fall. Mikey made a strong comeback at the Intercollegiate Championships last May, and both horses had top five finishes at the 2019 AECs. All the patience, hard work, and stress become worth it in those moments.

With school I was recently named the 2020 Robert G. Lawrence award winner by the UofL Equine Industry Program. This award recognizes the top senior in the program, and is based on GPA, performance in equine classes, and is voted on by the equine faculty. I am extremely grateful for my college experience and all of the valuable lessons I have learned both inside and outside of the classroom.

For anyone questioning whether or not they should ride during college, I want them to know it is very doable, especially when surrounded by supportive friends and barn family. The USEA’s intercollegiate eventing program provides a great opportunity to get involved in a fun riding team atmosphere, while still supporting education. Even if your school doesn’t have an eventing team, you can start one or just enjoy your college experience with your horse by your side.

Paige Thompson with Slewdelu (Slick) and Wreckless of Zipping (Cole). Photo by Lori Thompson.

Learn more about the USEA’s Intercollegiate Eventing Program here