Unbridled community: UK Eventing team gallops toward success


The University of Kentucky Wildcats Team win the 2021 Intercollegiate National Championship. Photo provided by the USEA

Natalia Garcia, Reporter

The Bluegrass region is at the heart of the equine industry. With world-renowned thoroughbred auctions and tracks, there is never a lack of equine activities to enjoy. 

While horse racing may be at the forefront of these activities, there is one event that truly highlights everything that Lexington’s horses and riders are capable of: eventing. 

Commonly referred to as an equestrian triathlon, eventing is an equestrian event consisting of three components: dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Originating as a cavalry test, eventing first became an Olympic sport in 1912. According to the United States Equestrian Federation, “eventing tests horse and rider pairs more completely than any other discipline.” 

Dressage is the first of the three components and tests the horse and rider’s accuracy by having the pair follow a combination of moves on flat land. Cross-country is the second component, which tests the speed and endurance of the horse over varied terrain with a series of jumps over solid obstacles. Show jumping is the last component, which tests the horse’s precision by having the pair clear jumps over fences that are easily knocked down.

At the University of Kentucky, the already-demanding sport of eventing is taken to a whole new level of difficulty as students work to find a balance between school and eventing. 

“We’re all full time students and also managing having a horse that is competing or, if not competing, still needs full time care and exercise and attention,” said Hannah Warner, a senior business major and the president of the UK club eventing team. “The time management of it is really hard, kind of knowing that when you bring a horse, you’re gonna have to give up either a little bit of sleep or a little bit of your social life.”

Time management is just one of the obstacles the team faces. Warner said because the team is a club sport, it also faces a lack of funding and recognition from UK. 

“We do all of our own fundraising, and we try to work really, really hard so that we can make it as accessible as possible to the people that maybe can’t afford the extra show a month,” Warner said. “We don’t get a ton of recognition from UK and we’ve asked the question to a bunch of our members like ‘How many of you guys came to UK for the eventing team?’ and like 75% of the team raises their hands, so not getting recognition is difficult.”

According to Isabel McSwain, a senior integrated strategic communication major and the eventing team’s social media manager, the team is the only collegiate team in the nation to have broken into the hundreds for members and is larger than the rest of the collegiate-level teams by about 50 members.

“It’s hard to be as big as we are, and we want to give our members everything that we can but we’re self-funded,” Warner said. 

Although self-funding has its difficulties, there are some benefits as well. Because the team doesn’t get any monetary support from UK, they are able to choose where to practice, train and keep their horses. This leniency allows for members to choose the barn and coach that works best for them, which more properly sets each member up for success, Warner said. 

Being a club sport also makes the team more inclusive and allows for more social opportunities, McSwain said. 

While the team has won multiple individual and team awards, the greatest reward for Warner and McSwain has been the community they’ve found within the team. 

“It’s made my college experience. I’ve made so many friends through the eventing team, and it’s literally been like the reason that I’ve loved Kentucky so much and love, love UK and love Lexington … being on a team has given me that sense of community with 115 people that are also doing the college thing and the horse thing,” Warner said. 

McSwain also spoke to the sense of community that accompanies being on the team.

“(At) these events competing as a team, there’s really just nothing like it,” McSwain said. “It’s such a sense of community because everyone’s out there. If they’re not riding they’re out there cheering for you. You’ll come across the finish flags and you’ll have probably like 20 people just sitting there screaming and cheering for you and cheering you on … when we compete as a team, it just gives such a community and there’s such an atmosphere to it.” 

Although the community within the team provides a great social aspect to the sport, rest assured the competitive aspect is just as important to the team. The team placed first at the 2021 United States Eventing Association (USEA) Intercollegiate Championships and hopes to reclaim their title at this year’s championships. The 2023 USEA Intercollegiate Championships will take place in Mill Spring, North Carolina from May 26-28. 

Warner and McSwain, who have both been members of the team for the past four years, recalled some of their favorite memories, most of which occurred at the USEA Intercollegiate Championships. 

McSwain fondly remembers having members spread out all across the cross-country course cheering for teammates before running back to the finish line to cheer them on further. The team even got recognized by USEA for cheering for everyone, she said. 

One of Warner’s favorite memories happened at last year’s championships when she watched a group of friends slowly come out of their shells throughout the weekend. Originally keeping to themselves, the group was cheering for everybody and had gotten really involved with the team by the end of the weekend, Warner said. 

“It’s just the most fun weekend. Everybody is so excited to be there. I literally have goosebumps from talking about it,” Warner said. “We’ve all worked so hard to fundraise to get there. The stalls are decorated. We’re all decked out head to toe in UK blue.” 

Although the eventing team may face many obstacles (both literally and figuratively), its members are still proud to be part of the team and represent the school. 

“It’s been really fun to be able to represent my school through the intercollegiate eventing program,” Warner said.