Aiken Triple Crown: For USC Aiken equestrian teams, riding is academic
USC Aiken’s equestrian programs give students who ride a leg up on future careers while earning their degrees and continuing to compete in the sports they love.
For more than five years, USCA has offered two different equestrian teams as club sports.
The eventing team competes in dressage, stadium jumping and cross country with major universities such as Georgia, Alabama and Clemson and at local eventing competitions. Through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, or IHSA, students participate in hunt seat and western competitions regionally with schools such as Clemson, Lander and the College of Charleston.
This year, 13 students are on the eventing team and 11 on the IHSA team. Most have been riding since childhood and work at local stables and for trainers around town while going to school.
All of the teams’ members, who come from as near as Lexington and as far as Washington state, are women, but men can compete, too. Collectively, they maintain a B grade point average.
With so many equestrian events in Aiken, USCA is the perfect place for students to study and ride, said Michelle Hodge, the programs’ adviser who works in the Office of Advancement.
“Girls – I say girls because no men are on the teams right now – love horses. They want to continue to ride. Mom and dad want them to go to school. At USCA, they can continue to ride and go to school, and everyone is happy,” she said.
Amanda Kornacki, a junior nursing major from Florida on the eventing team, looked at other schools but, “definitely, the horses brought me to USCA,” she said. “Plus the academics here are fantastic.”
Kornacki, the eventing team president, said being a nurse would give her the flexibility to continue eventing after graduation.
“I love horses, and I love competing,” she said. “I’d like to continue for the rest of my life.”
Sarah Cundith, a freshman business management major from Virginia on the eventing team, took a gap year after high school to work with a professional eventer and spent the winter in Aiken.
“That was my first taste of Aiken, and I really liked it,” she said. “I had already decided to come to school here, but that reinforced my decision.”
Cundith, an exercise rider at the Aiken Training Track, said she wants to be a professional trainer and rider.
“But all the trainers and riders will tell younger people to go to college and establish a plan B, and my management major will help with a horse business,” she said.
Sophie Miller, a junior business management major on the eventing team, said she “managed to talk her parents into letting” her move across the country from Washington state to Aiken after visiting a friend here.
“It was definitely a great choice. Aiken is a horse town, and I fell in love with it,” Miller said.
Miller, who has worked with Doug Payne, an eventing trainer based in Aiken, wants to become a professional trainer, too.
“Being in Aiken and having access to all these upper-level trainers and horses to ride has been a really good learning experience. I couldn’t do that on the West Coast,” she said.
Brooklin Kuipers, a junior communications major who was born in Michigan and moved to Lexington when she was 10, competes in the IHSA. She home-schooled through high school to work and ride, living in Savannah, Charlotte, Atlanta and Camden.
Kuipers came to Aiken for horse shows and trained here, too, when she was home.
“USCA is so attractive for people who show and do eventing and western. It’s such an amazing community, so warm and welcoming,” she said. “There’s so much vibrancy in the equestrian community. There’s an equestrian night at The Willcox. You can go and hang out with horse people. It’s really fun.”