Multimedia: WKU Equestrian Team ‘like family’ to its riders

Grace Stephens and Celine Sterett

Madison Carter, News reporter

It’s not unusual for students to choose a college based on a specific program. Brooke Sullivan is no different – she picked WKU for its horses.

Sullivan, who has been riding since she was seven, came to WKU to join the school’s equestrian team.

The program has experienced its share of success, bringing home many achievements from its most recent western show competition in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Nov. 5-6.

The team won High Point Team, Sullivan won High Point Rider, rider Anna Porter won first place and two other riders qualified for regionals.

Sullivan said she was surprised to win High Point Rider at the competition since she is newer to western riding. Her goals for the season are to qualify for regionals and win High Point Rider at an English show. 

“I absolutely love being on the team,” Sullivan said. “I’m at the barn any second I can. The people on the team are amazing, and they become like your family.”

WKU’s program came to a halt after founder Charles Anderson retired in 2015, but coach Creste Jean restored the team after being hired as WKU’s equine technician in 2020. Paige Smith was hired as an equine sciences instructor in 2021 and became a coach alongside Jean. 

Jean and Smith were both former riders on the equestrian team under Anderson. 

“This is both of our dream job,” Jean said. “We would love to come back and continue Dr. Anderson’s legacy, because he was a big mentor for both of us.”

Jean said the skills learned on the team, both in horse riding and leadership, are invaluable to her.

“The skills that I learned on the team really helped me in my career, and I wanted to give that opportunity to students and help them learn those things as well,” Jean said. 

While earning points and winning awards are wonderful, Smith said the coaches are most interested in the progression of the riders’ mindsets.

Jean said riders on the team come from different horse riding backgrounds – some were experienced in barrel racing or trail riding, while some riders may have not competed at all.

“Each riding style comes with a very different culture, so we’ve been lucky to foster a culture that welcomes all of those different riding backgrounds,” Jean said. “The girls have done a really good job of being inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”

Laurel Vaught, a rider who qualified for regionals, started riding horses when she was in second grade.  Vaught is a double-major in anthropology and international affairs. She participates in the western and hunt seat teams. 

Her goals for this season were qualifying for regionals and becoming more confident. She has also been trying to improve her horsemanship. 

“It gives me confidence because I feel like people wouldn’t expect that I ride horses to the ability I can,” Vaught said. 

For Sullivan, horse riding is an escape.

“If you’re having a good day or a bad day, you just go ride and everything is perfect,” Sullivan said.

News reporter Madison Carter can be reached at [email protected]