September 21, 2010

The University of Kentucky and its Wildcats are known nationally for their prowess in basketball. But what many sports fans may not realize is that UK’s athletic successes also encompass another Kentucky tradition – the horse.

Since 2008, UK’s Equestrian Team, Dressage Team and Polo Team have all attained successes at their highest levels of competition.

The UK Polo Team, founded in 2006, consists of both a men’s and a women’s division and practices at Lexington Polo Club with club manager and coach, Jorge Vazquez. The women’s team was a last-minute qualifier for the 2010 national championships in Charlottesville, Va., and quickly became an upstart winner over the five-day meet.

"I am so unbelievably proud. I went to Charlottesville with two others who were competing on the team and we were in tears," said Tannis Marley, co-founder and past president of the team. "I just thought it would be a fun thing to do when I went to college, and now we're national champions. I'm just so proud of all the hard work and dedication and support this team has had over the years."

UK’s Equestrian Team was formed in 1985 and is comprised of both hunt seat, an English discipline that includes jumping, and stock seat, a Western discipline. Riders compete both for their team, earning points for each placing they receive, and for an individual placing. They are grouped by experience, and beginners are allowed to compete.

In 2007, the Equestrian Team made its first trip to nationals. The hunt seat team won its first team championship the following year. Also that year, stock seat alumni rider Lacey Wercynski took home a reserve national champion title in individual competition.

In 2009, the team returned to nationals and won a reserve national championship, placing second out of 372 teams. Individual rider Ali Cibon claimed a national championship in her division as well. In 2010, the team placed third in the national competition.

Hunt seat team president Lauren Patterson believes that the team’s success in national competition is truly an accomplishment given the size of the organization.

“It’s exciting to see that in the past three years we’ve been ranked first, second and third,” Patterson said. “Compared to the other schools that usually place in the top three, our program is much smaller. It’s great to see that our program is really that strong.”

The hunt seat team is coached by Michelle Zimmer of Robert Murphy Stables, and the stock seat team by Bennie Sargent of High Point Equestrian Center.

Faculty advisor Bob Coleman says that the Equestrian Team’s success would not be possible without their coaching support or sponsors.

The UK Dressage Team, now known as the UK Dressage and Eventing Team, has also had success in intercollegiate competition. Rider Alison Wilaby became the first UK rider to receive a national dressage title when she won the First Level Test One Division in 2008.

The Dressage and Eventing Team is one of the youngest equine teams in the UK College of Agriculture. It provides a networking opportunity for students interested in both disciplines.

There is no official intercollegiate eventing organization, but according to UK eventing president Courtney Carrol, two unofficial shows are held each year as team competitions between universities. UK’s eventing team placed second in the country in one of the 2010 shows. The team trains with Jennifer Joyce at Champagne Run Stables in Lexington.

The College of Agriculture also plays host to three other equine organizations: the Saddle Seat Team, the Horse Judging Team and the Horse Racing Club, all of which continue to recruit new members.

For more information about the College of Agriculture's student equine organizations, please visit http://www2.ca.uky.edu/equine/studenthub . 

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