Smith Announces Closing of Equestrian Facility, Team Will Be Club Sport

img_1638 Katherine Hazen ’18 Associate Editor 

Last week, Smith announced the equestrian team will be considered a club sport in fall of 2017. The decision comes after the vendor of the Fox Meadow Farm facility discontinued his position — of which Smith officially owns the land and barn, not the horses and tack — and Smith was unable to find a new vendor.

The change in the team’s status means that funding will come from the Student Government Association rather than the Athletics Department, but the schedule of competitions will remain. The equestrian team was the only NCAA-unsanctioned varsity sport in which Smith competed, as the release announcing the change stated.

“A number of factors led us to this decision. Enrollment in riding instruction has declined. Outsourcing animal care and barn management to an external vendor is an increasingly challenging and risky business model,” said Dean of the College and Vice President for Campus Life Donna Lisker in an email to The Sophian. “And, like many of our peers, we are reluctant to take on the liabilities involved in directly operating a campus barn. We also believe that we can preserve the best of the student experience as a club.”

The decision, however, has provoked a strong response from riding students, parents and alumnae.

“There has been a small but vocal group of alumnae and parents who have expressed concern and dissatisfaction,” Dean Lisker said. “The students are disappointed to lose their barn, but have had several productive conversations with athletic director Kristin Hughes and myself and are focusing on the future.”

The Facebook group “Save Smith College Equestrian Facility and Team,” has garnered 471 members, with the goal of keeping pressure on Smith administrators, “to make sure that this tragic decision is overturned,” as team member and Horse Memoir intern Liberty Dupuis ’17 writes in a letter on the group’s description.

The Save Smith Equestrian Steering Committee is composed of 15 members of alumnae from classes ranging from 2015 to 1943 -- they hope, as member Jacqueline Hensel '06 expressed to The Sophian, to “present solutions to the college administration and work with them to save this vital resource.”

Parents and alumnae that reached out to The Sophian felt their voices were not heard in the administration’s decision. As Steven Rizzi, parent of Elise Rizzi ’19, said in an email to The Sophian, “The administration announced that they would be demoting the varsity team to a club; they would be closing that equestrian facility; and they would be replacing the full time coaching positions with an hourly, non-Smith instructor from the community.  I was surprised that there was no warning and no discussion. … If this decision stands, it will have a lasting negative effect on the future performance of the team.”

Elaine “Tegan” Kossowicz ’88 said “the college appears to have made the decision completely unilaterally and without consultation with any alumnae. … Smith College support and accepted numerous donations from many donors and supporters to build the impressive riding facility and stable, and it is sacrilegious that Smith may now tear the complex down.”

The family of Christiane “Christy” Brooks Johnson, a close friend of Kossowicz and student who died in an Amtrak crash in 1987, donated money to Smith upgrade the barn in their daughter’s name. Rizzi is also troubled by the administration’s willingness to go against the will of alumnae and parents who have donated large sums of money.

“[P]erhaps the most shocking thing to me is the fact that closing the Smith equestrian facility would entail breaking even more promises,” Rizzi wrote. “One of those promises was made to the parents of Christy Johnson, a Smith student and equestrian team member, who died in a tragic Amtrak crash.  A large donation was made by her mother (also a Smith grad) to renovate the facility in her daughter’s memory.  Other large donations were also made to that facility by other alums. … We are already starting to see negative reactions from alums on Facebook about cutting off charitable donations and bequests.”

Dean Lisker, however, did not seem too worried about any effects the change will have on donations. “We hope that those who support the riding program will be just as likely to support it as a club.”

Conversations between the Athletics Department and the team on transitioning to a club sport will begin in January.