When high school students are ready to graduate, they might consider taking their love of horses to the collegiate level for competition and study. For many equine lovers, attending a school with a strong equestrian program is the perfect opportunity to continue competing and also study an equine related major. There are many excellent schools across the nation who participate in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. We spoke with Carla Wennberg, a coach at St. Andrews University, to learn how it all works. By the end of this article, you can decide if a college equestrian program is right for you.
How To Find Your Perfect College Equestrian Program
To get started with your search, the United States Equestrian Federation has a very useful tool that can be used to find universities across the nation that have strong equestrian programs. Use this tool to narrow down the type of school you are interested in based on categories like size, location, course of study, academic scholarships availability, and type of riding. Once you’ve found some schools that interest you, the best way to make your decision is to simply visit and get a feel for the program. Coaches, instructors, and other school representatives can give valuable insight into the culture of the school and the academic opportunities.
Carla Wennberg has been the Western Riding Team coach at St. Andrews for the last eight years.
One such coach is Carla Wennberg of St. Andrews University. She has been the Western Riding Team coach for the last eight years and shared some information about her school’s program. Just ninety miles from Myrtle Beach, St. Andrews University is a small university nestled amidst the sandy pines in Laurinburg, NC. It is a branch of Webber International University and has 700 undergraduate students. 220 of these students are involved in the riding program each semester. The grounds at St. Andrews cover 300 acres and include 100 horses, two large covered arenas, a smaller indoor for therapeutic horse lessons, three outdoor arenas, and surrounding grassy fields. Hunters jump either inside or outside in the fields and enjoy a full cross-country course of fences.
The equestrian facilities at St. Andrews University cover 300 acres of grassy fields surrounded by North Carolina pine trees.
Although Carla said she loved her prior experiences with big universities like University of Georgia and Colorado State University, she said, “I have really loved St. Andrews because it is so personal.” She continued, “If you like smaller class room numbers and smaller group lessons, we are a great school. Personally, I love our facility. I think most of our students do too!”
Snapshot Of The St. Andrews Western Riding Team
The Western Riding Team at St. Andrews has 24 team members and most of them will have the chance to compete this year. Some of the beginning level riders are recruited from the Men’s Lacrosse team. Carla explained, “My philosophy as a coach is that we are a team in every way; supporting each other, not only as a great rider or showman, but as a person. I want our students to be the great leaders of the world!” At the beginning of the year, she discusses fitness with her team and makes a point to schedule team runs two or three times a week. Many members also supplement their training with weight lifting and swim sessions. Riding practices are on Fridays and this is where Carla can give more individual coaching to each athlete.
St. Andrews University 2012 IHSA Western National Team
The western team competes in western horsemanship and reining competitions. “We have divisions and a point system where you ‘point up and out’ in a division,” she explained. All of the team’s hard work pays off with a very successful program. In 2013, the St. Andrews Western Team were Reserve National Champions. “I have been here eight years, and there was only one year where we were not in the top five at Nationals,” shared Carla.
Learn about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association
St. Andrews University has several competition teams including a 60 member Hunter Seat Team, the Western Riding Team, Dressage Team (part of the Intercollegiate Dressage Federation), a Show Team for hunters who board their own horses, and an ANRC team for the American National Riding Commission. The Western Riding and Hunter Seat teams show in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA).
The St. Andrews University 2014 National Championship 3rd Place Team
The IHSA has over 400 participating colleges with over 9,500 athletes. The nation is split up into Zones and Regions with Regionals, Semi-Finals, and Nationals held yearly. Carla explained, “We are Zone 4 Region 3, which means we show against North Carolina and Virginia colleges. There are nine colleges that compete in our Region.” The St. Andrews Western team competes in four shows in the fall and three shows plus Regionals in the spring. Although there are many great colleges in the region, their main rival is often North Carolina State University.
The athletes travel to compete at shows hosted by other schools using the host school’s horses and facilities. For IHSA competitions, competitors draw lots and are randomly assigned a horse with which to compete. “As a coach, it is the toughest coaching, because of the ‘no warm up’ and luck of your draw that day. For a rider, it teaches the greatest ‘feel’ and makes a rider an amazing ‘catch’ rider.” Carla truly enjoys watching the men and women on her team achieve the highest levels in competition. She shared, “The life lessons learned through showing on a team are endless.”
For some shows, the traveling teams from St. Andrews do bring along horses that will be used in the competition. “Last year, we brought six horses to Nationals in Harrisburg, Pa. This spring we’ll bring horses to Regional finals and the Semi-Finals in Florida.” The university owns two six-horse trailers and one 2 horse trailer for these transports. Carla is glad to bring her horses to these competitions because she feels strongly that the university has some top quality horses in their program. “As you know, the horses are the BEST teachers!!”
Do You Want to Study a Horse-Related Major?
At a school like St. Andrews, the equestrian experience doesn’t end in the show ring. They also offer many equine related majors for study. Carla said, “Many of our equestrian riders do choose the Equine Business Degree, but they also choose the Therapeutic Teaching Degree.” The school also offers degrees in Therapeutic Horsemanship, Equine Science, Pre-Vet, and Therapeutic Horsemanship Business Management. Be sure to check out the equestrian studies page on their site to learn more about specific courses of study.
Remember that if you would like to participate in the equestrian team but study a non-equine related major, that is an option too. St. Andrews and other schools offer a wide variety of majors in all subjects.
Making Your Final Decision on a College
The tool from the USEF also has options to find other colleges that match your desired location, major, and size. In the end, you need to consider many factors when you choose a college for yourself. A school with equestrian competition teams may be the perfect option so you can continue riding and competing. These schools often have fantastic equine related majors to complement your ongoing horse education. Do you research and then plan some visits to your top choices to find the perfect equestrian college!
If you are looking for a university to further your education while continuing in the world of horse competition, you might consider the programs at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC. To learn more about their program visit their website at www.SA.edu. Carla summed it up best; “I love driving down the driveway every day. I love the barns and the arenas. I love riding out. For me as a coach and instructor, it is my horse heaven!”
About: Carla Wennberg is an AQHA/NSBA/NRHA judge and FEI Reining Steward, Instructor, and Coach for St. Andrews University.
- What are some tops equestrian colleges in your area?
- What questions do you have for Carla about what it’s like to compete at the collegiate level?