‘Figure it out’: UA Equestrian Club loses funding

Ginger Morrow, Contributing Writer

The UA Equestrian Club is taking the fundraising reins after the University cut the club’s funding. 

The club, with over 20 members, set up a GoFundMe campaign to make up for lost funding, though according to Vice President Abigayle Kneebone, it will “in no way” cover the club’s yearly budget.

The club was demoted from varsity sport to club sport in March 2020. Kneebone started a petition after the announcement. The petition received more than 22,000 signatures but failed to reverse the University’s decision. 

“We were told by our coaches that the University wasn’t going to fund us anymore, and … we had until the end of the semester to ‘figure it out,’” Kneebone said. “It was very much a wiping of their hands.”

UA spokesperson Shane Dorrill said the decision was due to “economic downturn” and that the needs of students are being considered.

A thorough analysis including program review and discussions with staff and student leaders of the program led to its current status as a student-led sport club, similar to more than 30 other sport clubs at UA and many of the equestrian program’s competitors at other institutions,” Dorrill said in a statement to Patch on Oct. 14. “Evaluating spending during times of economic downturn is a challenge, and UA continues to prioritize the needs of our students, their academic success and holistic wellbeing in these decisions.”

Originally, the University covered all equestrian team expenses after semester dues, which are $375 per member. Kneebone said the University leased “a barn full of horses” near Shelton State Community College. The University also covered vet bills, farrier expenses, feed, competition registration, transportation and hotel stays.

Kneebone said the “small allotment” of funding the team now receives as a club sport has forced them to completely change their program. 

The Western team has reduced the horses in its care from seven to two, which means each student has fewer chances to practice per month. Leased horses were returned to their owners, donated horses were returned to their donors, and two unclaimed horses were taken into ownership by a club coach. 

Among the returned horses were some used in a therapeutic riding program that served the Tuscaloosa community. Without available horses, Kneebone said the program can no longer exist.

Some club members with a passion for riding are considering transferring schools. 

“I know a lot of girls who came to The University of Alabama specifically for the equestrian team,” Kneebone said. “Without a funded team, it simply is not worth it, especially with out-of-state tuition.”

Kenlee West, a freshman in the club, is transferring to Middle Tennessee State University in the fall because of the funding cuts.

“I love this team and the girls, but with limited supplies and support we have coming from UA it just makes it tough,” West said. “I grew up showing for the American Quarter Horse Association so to see the team get pushed to the side was really saddening.”