GU's Equine Program is off to a galloping start

Published: September 21, 2023

Author: Dave Bell

As first-year students made their way to Greenville University this fall, they came for many reasons – to pursue an academic program, to grow spiritually at a Christian university, or to extend their athletic career by participating in a sport.

But for at least a dozen freshmen, the reason for their enrollment at GU includes yet another attraction – horses.

Those students were drawn to GU by the rollout of the University’s new Equine Program. The program provides two avenues to earn a minor. The first is Equine Sciences, which includes pre-veterinary science courses related to the training and care of horses. The second path is Equine Assisted Services, through which students learn to use horses for therapy and emotional healing. Students involved in either track will take several basic horsemanship classes.

GU's Equine Program is off to a galloping startGU senior Taylor Weiss, pictured above, said the addition of the equine program will “put GU on the map” for students interested in the horse industry. “If I were an incoming freshman, I would be astonished by how good the horse facilities are here. Having a huge indoor arena like ours means that we’re always able to ride, no matter what the weather is. And our instructors have been amazing leaders and teachers.”

An elementary and special education major, Weiss said the equine program will teach her how to use horses to provide therapy for her future students.

“The Equine Assisted Services program will help me combine my love of teaching and my love of horses,” said Weiss, a Greenville native. “There is such a special connection between the horses and students with disabilities. I hope to help my students by exposing them to horses; they can learn so much just by being around the horses.”

GU's Equine Program is off to a galloping startEquine Program leadership

Directing Greenville University’s equine program is Liz Bays, pictured above, a Bond County woman who has been training horses and riders on her family farm south of Greenville since she was a teenager. She is a certified horse trainer and riding instructor, and currently has more than 50 riding students ranging in age from 3 to 60.

“Horses have impacted my life and my character in so many ways,” said Bays, who bought her first pony at the age of 12. “They are majestic ­– but relatable – animals, and I’ve seen the ways they can change people. You will learn all kinds of skills working with horses, but they will also make you a better person; they will build your character.”

That character-building theme is common among horse enthusiasts. They point to character traits such as responsibility, teamwork, confidence, and self-control that can be learned or reinforced by working with horses.

As Bays charts the course of the equine program, she can call on more than two decades of experience in the horse world. She has been around horses and horse events since her teen years, and she’s attended countless clinics and horse expos (both in person and online). She launched a thriving horse training and riding business from her family farm in her 20s and later earned a degree from California Baptist University.

GU's Equine Program is off to a galloping startFor those who don’t want to pursue a minor but still want to spend time around horses while attending GU, there is the recently launched Equine Club. The club will meet every other week and meetings will feature horse-related programs and opportunities to groom and interact with the horses. Alisha Harrison, pictured above, is assistant director of the GU Equine Program and program recruiter, in addition to leading the club. She is a graduate of the equine science program at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale.

GU President Davis knows the impact of horses

The character aspect also makes the equine program a perfect match with Greenville University’s focus on character and service. And that’s why GU President Suzanne Davis – an equestrian herself – championed the idea of adding the equine program to the University’s curriculum. The program launched this fall and will include two classes during the current academic year: Horsemanship I in the fall and Horsemanship 2 in the spring.

To support the academic program, President Davis and her husband Phil built a 68-foot by 140-foot arena and several new stalls adjacent to their own horse facility on the outskirts of Greenville. The University will use that facility for the equine program’s horses and classes. The arena also will provide opportunities for Equine Program members to serve community residents who could benefit from exposure to horses.

“Horses have taught me so much in life,” Davis said. “As a child, they taught me self-discipline, responsibility, and accountability. As a young adult, they were a comfort and an escape as I grieved the loss of my father and then my brothers. When I adopted my teenage daughters, who had come from abusive situations, I watched as the girls experienced tremendous benefits by working with these intuitive animals, growing in confidence and trust. The self-awareness they gained and the things they learned from caring for the horses greatly impacted their development.”

Davis said that she’s had a longstanding dream of sharing her horses and facilities with the University to allow students to engage with horses – either for therapeutic reasons themselves or to serve others through what they learn through horsemanship coursework and practice.

GU's Equine Program is off to a galloping startThe Equine Program connects students to GU

Bays said she’s excited to see Greenville University embrace the Equine Program. “I know what horses have done for me, and I want GU students to have that experience, too,” she said. “Through this program, they will learn to engage with a horse, train them, and care for them. It’s transformative to the students when the horse responds to them. It’s also another way to connect them to the University and give them a sense of belonging.”

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