By Hope Kelly, Staff Writer
Huddled tightly together with her teammates to stay warm, tired and exhausted from waking up before dawn, Furman Equestrian Team President and junior Rachel Keith was not the least bit unhappy with her first horse show with the team at the College of Charleston her freshman year.
The equestrian team gave Keith “that team moment that [she] felt like [she] had been missing [her] whole entire life” since her high school never had a team.
She has been riding since she was five and started riding at Top Call Farm, where the Furman team rides, learning from the Furman trainers Leslie Huffman-Maddox and Muffin Forester when she was in sixth grade.
Since she was never part of an equestrian team in high school, she took independent instruction from Huffman-Maddox and Forester. Now, she trains alongside them on the Furman Equestrian Team.
This year, the team’s first show will be at University of South Carolina on Oct. 17 and 18.
“We only went to five [shows] last year,” Keith said. “This year we are going to eight including regionals, and we expect to have one to five girls qualify. The girls work their entire college career to qualify for regionals.”
The team will be competing at other locations such as Clemson, College of Charleston and possibly Georgia Southern.
“I’m most looking forward to the Clemson show, because I didn’t get to go last year, and I heard it’s one of our harder show’s,” sophomore Samantha Lucas said, “So I’d love to see if we can get some more ribbons this year,”
Additionally, the team has grown this year to 27 members, including 11 new members.
Sophomore Abby Gilbert is one of those new members to the team, but she is also a newcomer to the activity.
“Everybody has made me feel really welcomed even though I had never been on a horse before,” Gilbert said.
“I think it’s going to be our best season. We have finally grown the team to where we can have the maximum number of rides at each show,” Keith said. By reaching this size, they can be competitive as a team in addition to individuals.
While the team grew this year, its funding decreased, leaving it with a little over half of the $12,000 it had last year, according to Keith. This was due to the fact that it did not use all of its funding the year before due to miscommunication on budgeting.
As a result, the team will need to do more fundraising this year. Its members plan to have a bake sale during homecoming, organize a carwash and begin to sell their “FU in the Barn” T-shirts with part of the proceeds going to the team.
People have many reasons for joining the team. For Keith, the group gave her the friendship and team that she had wanted in high school. She said that it was even “part of what made [her] come to Furman.”
Sophomores like Gilbert joined the team for friendships and the fun experience, while others like Lucas enjoy the competition.
“I’ve been riding since seventh grade, and I love it. I wanted to continue doing it in a setting that wasn’t too competitive, but also allows us to compete,” Lucas said. “It’s a lot of fun, and we’re a great, supportive group.”
“We don’t care how well you ride, if you’ve ever ridden, the type of riding you do. We just really want to hang out with other people who love horses,” Keith said. If you want to show, that’s great. You can be as competitive as you want. It’s very laid back environment with a bunch of girls who never grew out of the phase.”