New club provides opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with horses

Emma Voils, an agriculture education major, leads Charlie the horse out of the stable after his bath and scrubbing, which keeps him from overheating after a day of riding.

Jake Dressman

The new equestrian club at WKU saw a large turnout for its first meeting last Tuesday at “the farm,” and offered the opportunity for students with any level of experience to work with and learn about horses. 

Though WKU has previously had an equine show team, this is the first equine club open to all students. The competitive team will be back as soon as funding is available and a coach hired, club vice president Nicole Walters said. 

The meeting discussed upcoming events, T‐shirt designs, barn safety and introduced the officers and club advisor, Jennifer Gill, who teaches all the equine classes at WKU. 

For the homecoming parade, the club plans to dress up their Appaloosa pony, named Ollie, in the “decades of spirit theme.” Club president Holly Maupin, who has been riding horses since she was 7, said the club is all about what the members want to get out of it. 

“We will listen to what everyone wants out of the club,” Maupin said. “And we can do fundraising for events that you want to go to.” 

Some of these events include horse shows, the Kentucky Derby, horse parks and a spring horse show at the WKU Equine Teaching and Research Center showroom, where students in equine classes learn to ride and take care of horses. 

The farm, officially known as the WKU Agriculture Research and Education Center, is about 800 acres of land where research is conducted, crops are grown, cattle are milked and horses trained. 

“It’s a little piece of paradise out here,” Jennifer Gill said. “I love my job. Seeing the students learn and grow is really rewarding.”

Gill has managed the equine department for the last three years, and she teaches basic equitation and equine experience classes at the farm, where students can learn different riding styles such as Dressage and Huntsman. 

“Hands‐on [learning] is what I’m all about,” Gill said. “Students respond to doing, so they learn in class and then come apply it here.” She said fundraising from the club could help pay for the first horse show at the farm in about 10 years. 

Though club members will not be able to ride horses due to insurance liability, club secretary Alysha Kittle said she enjoys being around horses just as much as riding them. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I love to ride,” Kittle said. “But there is a lot more you can do with horses. Every horse has their own personality and it makes them fun and interesting just to be around.” 

With plans to become a veterinarian, Kittle talked about how their research allows them to learn a lot about the species. Back home in northern Kentucky, Kittle works at a ranch where she has also seen the therapeutic benefit of horses. 

“I’ve seen people with autism, Down syndrome, PTSD, or just physical impairments benefit from equine therapy,” Kittle said. “Horses create a bond with humans and they can directly reflect someone’s emotions.”  

Club vice president Nicole Walters said anyone who wants to volunteer around the farm or just come hang out with the horses can contact them at [email protected] to join the club. 

Though 50 students attended and signed up for the email list, the club is welcome to members from all backgrounds. 

Emma Voils, an agriculture education major from Russell County who joined the club, has been riding horses ever since she can remember. She has broken several bones riding, but said getting hurt is just a part of it. Her family owns 9‐and‐a‐half horses, the half being a mini horse that likes to come into their house sometimes to hang out. She said that she once woke up in the middle of the night to see the horse standing in her room. 

The farm plans to start their own mini horse breeding program once the offspring of their stallion Romeo and mare Jazzy is born in February. They are currently working on an enclosure for the mini horses. 

Though some students like Voils grew up with horses, others at the meeting had never ridden a horse.  

Lina Lin, an exchange student from Taiwan majoring in Arabic, said she had never been around horses. 

“I am just interested in trying new things and gaining new experiences,” Lin said. 

Reporter Jake Dressman can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].