Collegiate Eventing Spotlight: University of Virginia

Collegiate eventing is a growing sport among college athletes, offering an alternative to the traditional hunter/jumper, saddleseat and western options typically seen in athletic programs. We will be spotlighting college teams and riders from around the country. Do you have a tip about a college team? Email [email protected].

A few members of the UVA Eventing and Dressage Team. Photo from Colleen O'Conner.

The eventing and dressage team at the University of Virginia was founded in 2011 by Colleen O’Connor, who served as the team’s president until elections this year. Colleen thought of the idea and networked throughout the school to generate interest. An initial team of five members was formed, and they submitted a team constitution to the school in order to officially form a new club sport. In November of 2011, the University of Virginia Eventing and Dressage team was approved as the newest club sport at the university.

Structured like many other eventing teams, the UVA team welcomes riders of all levels to the team, which is 14 members strong now. “We are really inclusive, so if you want to be on the team you’re more than welcome as long as you pay dues and come to team meetings,” said Colleen. “We also have many team fundraisers that potential members can come out to so that they can meet the team and ask questions. Interested students can also come and audit clinics or lessons if they are not ready to make the commitment to join the team yet.”

A UVA team member listens to some advice from Marty Morani during a team clinic.

The team is primarily coached by 1996 Olympic alternate Mimi Combs, but students are welcome to train with whomever they choose since the team is not required to keep their horses at the same barn. Periodically, the team will hold clincs with various eventing, hunter/jumper, and dressage trainers that are usually reserved for team participation only. Some clinics will be offered to alumni or non-team members from time to time, which also helps generate outside interest in the team.

The team at UVA recently held officer elections, and as Colleen will be graduating this year the presidential torch will be passed to newly elected Annan Hepner, who was also a founding member of the team. Colleen is confident in Annan, saying that “[Annan] is hoping to have an Intercollegiate Dressage Association team in the near future. In the meantime, we have just been competing as individuals.”

Virginia representing at the Youth Team Dressage competition at Morven Park this year.

The UVA team is a well-organized team that has garnered the support of both the school itself and a handful of sponsors. Team members who do not have their own horses are assisted with finding suitable leases or a strong lesson program to participate in as a part of the UVA team. Colleen feels that the most important element of the team is that everyone is available to help and support. “Even if you are not necessarily competing, just adding the element of having the support of a team and a coach to help you along is helpful in becoming a better rider,” Colleen explained.

Camraderie and support is the strongest theme we have noticed in our interviews with collegiate team members. To me, this is just further proof that eventing is truly a team sport, and collegiate teams are a shining example of this team spirit.

Go Cavaliers and Go collegiate eventing.

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