As the new semester kicks into full gear at universities around the country, Sue King has big goals for her young eventers at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. Brought in two years ago to oversee the formation of an eventing team in an already bustling equine program, Sue has enjoyed her time building a successful program with the unwavering support of the university.
“There was some interest in an eventing club before I got here,” Sue said. “So when I came in we just picked it right up and started holding practices once a week. It was a bit less structured because I just wanted to get it rolling.”
Findlay is home to the state of the art James L. Childs Junior Equestrian Complex, which houses approximately 300 horses and accommodates students who are riding as a part of the program or who are taking courses in Equestrian Studies. With the addition of the eventing program, the equine focus at Findlay now covers hunter/jumper, dressage, eventing, and Western disciplines.
Sue has worked hard to build a proper eventing program, and with the support of the university behind her she’s been able to make plans for a practice cross country course and help her students compete on Varsity and Junior Varsity teams. “There’s 14 on the team now, and we have three on the Varsity team who compete regularly,” she said. “The rest ride on the JV team, and are able to compete if they prove they are ready.”
What about horses? Many schools have donated horses to use in their hunter/jumper programs, but finding a horse suitable for eventing presents a larger challenge. “Many people who donate horses don’t want their horses ‘broken,’ so they take them to a school where the horse won’t event,” Sue said. “Although I think eventers are more conscious of soundness than others, we’ve been lucky to have several horses in the program that are schoolmasters.”
Findlay students are welcome to bring their own horse to school with them or ride one of the horses in the program. “Eventers want to give back,” Sue explained. “Generally speaking, they are more about the whole sport rather than individual gain, so if they can place a horse that is gifted but maybe not working, they’ll send it here. A lot of these horses are natural teachers, and we have a vet right here on campus for any needs they might have. They’re treated with a lot of respect by our students.”
Now that the eventing program has grown legs, Sue holds tryouts each year for new members. Her goal is to keep the costs as low as possible, understanding that many students cannot afford to compete and ride without some help while they’re in school. “They pay dues, usually around $50,” Sue said. “And we do shows for fundraising. We’ll do more fundraising this year, but their dues include their lessons and training. I volunteer my time teaching because I want to give back, and someone has to give back in order to make a program like this work. I’m fortunate to have such an amazing job and the support of the school, and I don’t mind volunteering my time to help these students. I believe in paying it forward.”
As a competitive eventer herself, Sue is able to make time to compete her own horse at the Preliminary level while still coaching her students up through the levels. “I can really focus on developing the program here and still have time for my own horse and family,” she said. “I can focus on teaching and organizing, and there is a great structure in place here.”
Findlay also hosts a summer clinic, which has attracted participants from as far as California in the past. Clinicians are brought in regularly as well, so the learning opportunities at the school are without end. Looking forward, Sue’s goal is to have more riders move up to join the Varsity team. Overall, she wants to see her students succeed and meet their goals during their time at Findlay.
“My ultimate goal is to be able to provide the opportunity for the students to go as high as they want to go,” Sue said. “If they are interested in moving up, I want to be able to get them there. I’d like to have more Prelim horses and have a good program for getting a student up to that level by the time they’re ready to graduate.
“A lot of what we’re seeing now is that we’re losing event riders at that college age because they have more limited options for riding in college. But the collegiate program is growing; I went to the USEA Convention two years ago and there were maybe 15 people in the collegiate meeting. This year, the room was filled.”
Indeed, more colleges are beginning to introduce eventing programs, and the USEA has also jumped aboard by offering a discounted membership to college students. With the support of the University of Findlay, Sue intends to continue building the eventing program, which will only help bolster the sport at the collegiate level in the future.
For more information on the University of Findlay’s program, you can visit their website or contact Sue King via email. Be sure to check out the video tour of Findlay’s English facility below while you’re at it! Go Collegiate Eventing!