It’s strange to think that the equestrian program didn’t always exist here at Albion College. Up until 2004, there was only a club, but nowhere to ride in town. Since then, Albion has expanded its equestrian program exponentially, with the construction of the Held Equestrian Center and now, by making further expansions and renovations the barn.
“We couldn’t host shows at home, couldn’t have outside horse shows, couldn’t have the summer camps like [programs] usually do because they didn’t really have an indoor [arena],” says Cayla Dupuis, a Glenview Illinois senior. As the co-captain of the Hunt Seat Varsity Team, Dupuis is excited for the new opportunities opening up for the equestrian program.
The equestrian center’s indoor facility is currently undergoing renovations after previous construction created leaks which damaged its roof. Some outdoor arenas are being renovated as well. These renovations include an expanded indoor arena and new footing – a special type of riding surface specifically designed for equestrian competition, which should be completed by this month.
Additionally, the current paddocks, where the horses are housed outside, will be built anew and moved to the front of the building. These installments will be the last phase of the renovation and should be finished later this fall.
“We have a horse program but it doesn’t look like it when you’re driving by. Now, when people [come], they’re going to see horses and see an active equestrian center,” says Jerry White, vice president for finance and administration.
Due to expansions, the Western team can now ride at the Held Center where the other teams practice. Before the renovations, the western team had to drive 20 minutes out to a barn in Marshall to ride, but now they can practice right here on campus. The Western team will be joining the two other teams within the program, Huntseat and Dressage.
One show students can look forward to is the Hunt Seat team’s Regional competition in March. In this exciting addition to Albion’s equestrian team, there will be twelve teams arriving on campus to compete. Riders will be judged on their ability to ride flat and ride over fences. This huge show is great not just in terms of entertainment for the community and campus, but it will also bring visitors to the town, adding attention to the new hotel and the local stores and restaurants.
The prospect of boosting recruitment numbers for the equestrian team is another benefit to come out of the renovations. On average, 40-50 students come with interest in the program, ranging from beginners to experienced riders. It’s a much larger number than what Randi Heathman, an Albion alum and a current equestrian recruitment coordinator for the College, foretold it would be in her senior thesis. Heathman graduated in 2003 and wrote her senior honors thesis on the benefits of constructing an equestrian center.
“The thesis itself was the idea that if Albion built an equestrian center, they would get students who wouldn’t automatically assume [that] Albion’s the perfect school for [them],” said Heathman.
Miraculously, by the spring of 2004, construction began and the equestrian center was completed by the fall thanks to the original donors Nancy G. Held and Jean Laughlin ‘50.
Now in the fall of 2016, the center is larger and grander than ever before, with huge benefits to come.
“The enthusiasm from both the college and the community I think is greatly supportive, and it’s exciting to see,” said Heathman.
The improvements to equestrian center will build upon an already great facility, according to White.
“I’ve had a couple people come out and say we have one of the nicest facilities they’ve ever seen,” said White.
From a thesis idea to a newly-renovated, 340-acre center, campus administrators and equestrian riders alike are excited about the opportunities the new Held Equestrian Center can create.
Photo by Bria Flanagan