Smith College equestrian team dropped from varsity lineup, WITH VIDEO



Published: 01-04-2017 12:56 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith College is transitioning its varsity equestrian team into a club sport, a move that has drawn considerable backlash since the plan’s announcement last month.

The move from varsity to club status will allow the college to “focus its athletic resources on NCAA varsity sports,” according to a news release from the college.

It also would align the college with other area schools, such as Amherst College, Williams College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, that offer equestrian as a club sport.

Smith’s program is the only non-NCAA-sanctioned varsity sport in which Smith competes.

The Smith College Department of Athletics and Recreation announced its decision on Dec. 8.

“This was a difficult decision,” said Kristin Hughes, director of athletics, in a statement, “but we believe it is in the best interest of Smith’s athletics program, which aims to be a leader in NCAA-sanctioned sports competition at the national level.”

She said equestrian competition at the club level will allow riders to maintain the same competition schedule while increasing student leadership and involvement in the sport. The college will begin to coordinate the logistics involved with developing a club program this month with significant input from student-athletes, Hughes said.

Smith will continue to fund the program until the club became chartered, according to the news release. After that point, the team is to be funded by the Student Government Association while also maintaining its existing competition schedule.

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The decision was “made over the course of two years and with a great deal of consideration,” Smith spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said in an email.

However, a group of alumni and students, who have dubbed themselves Save Smith Equestrian, are saying just the opposite.

The group is circulating an online petition calling for the reinstatement of the equestrian program to its varsity status and that students be permitted to use the Smith College Equestrian Center beyond fall 2017.

The group also maintains a Facebook page, Save Smith College Equestrian Facility and Team, which has 575 members as of Tuesday.

“We really, really need to have a seat at the table to talk to the Smith College administration,” said Save Smith Equestrian spokesperson Jess Peláez. “The announcement was a complete shock … Nobody had a seat at the table, really, so that’s what we want — to be able to speak with the Board of Trustees, to work with them to basically create a viable program and (keep) the facility running.”

Peláez, who graduated from Smith in 2005 with a history degree, said she drafted a letter to board members and is requesting time to meet.

Peláez also said that she and her organization were attempting to “demonstrate to the college … that there’s a large number of people who are affected by this decision.”

Lori Ann Quinlan, who runs Fox Meadow Farm, which is housed at the college’s equestrian center, said her farm provides horses, equipment and animal care to the college. The center itself, she added, has the capacity to hold 40 horses.

Among Quinlan’s concerns is the fate of her community riding program, which offers horseback lessons to all ages — a program that will no longer exist given the college’s decision.

“I would have to find another facility that could house my school horses and my community program kids,” she said — a feat that she’s begun, but hasn’t yet found a suitable alternative.

“I believed in the program,” Quinlan added, “and I believed in what the barn could be.”

Michael Majchrowicz can be reached at