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

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Photo courtesy of Tegan Kossowicz ’88. | Outgoing Smith president Jill Ker Conway and incoming Mary Maples Dunn attend the dedication of Smith’s new riding arena in the spring of 1986.

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.

12 Comments

  1. Alicia Donahue says:

    There goes another farm, there goes another distinction that Smith had over other colleges to attract students….and the decision won’t be revisited. Shame on the college for destroying this farm as if it means nothing to the students, the community and the Smith experience. Can’t wait to see what building replaces it. I estimate construction will start Fall 2017.

  2. Tegan Kossowicz says:

    Please mobilize and organize against this terrible Smith College decision on the Facebook page “Save Smith College Equestrian Facility and Team”. Many alumnae are shocked by the decision to close this beautiful new indoor riding arena and barn. Stay vocal, remember to explain why you are not donating or financially supporting Smith until they reverse this, spread the word and let’s not give up!

  3. Lauren Hilton says:

    The college has decided to dismiss the outrage of the alumni. This an important issue facing the college and the future of athletics at the school and needs to be brought to the wider attention of the student population and the community as it impacts them as well. Doc meadow farm has been a staple for community riders as well as team members.

  4. Fox Meadow Farm is more than just the college’s riding facility. Numerous community members have benefited from its presence over the years. I myself took lessons there as a child, and worked in the barn for a number of years in my twenties. Many wonderful memories were made and experiences were had within those walls. Shame on Smith for going about this in the manner in which they have, and for showing such disdain towards those who are speaking up. This decision impacts more people than they care to think about…and they are turning their backs and closing their ears to it all as usual. All because of money. That’s not what a college is supposed to be about.

  5. Mahtab Hanjani says:

    One of the main reasons I chose Smith was because of the riding facilities. This announcement is quite surprising and sad. We should consider ways to keep the sport alive.

  6. Sarah Morgan says:

    It’s not fair to the horses to make them carry students around. It’s demeaning and cruel.

    Excellent decision.

  7. Thank you for this article. I hope that budding Smith investigative journalists will let us know more.

    The second sentence in the article should have been included as a statement from the administration, not as a fact, since the administration has not shown that the vendor discontinued *her* position or that the college looked at all for a new vendor: “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.” My hope is that the administration will feel able to provide more transparency as we continue to discuss various options with them to innovate the equestrian facility, program, and team.

    Smith boasts a campus landscape that represents both innovation and improving on important traditions. The beautiful equestrian facility at Smith is an integral tradition, and can provide for many opportunities, not only in athletics, but also in various areas of academics and community outreach. I am hoping that the current situation can turn into a wonderful opportunity to keep, innovate, and improve the Smith College equestrian facility, team, and program. We have many supporters and great ideas.

    Karen (Kramer) Poppy, SC ’98
    Co-administrator of the Facebook groups Riding in the Cloud: Equestrian Alums and Students of Smith, and Save Smith College Equestrian Facility and Team 

    • Mary Margaret says:

      You wrote the first sentence of your second (and somewhat turgid) paragraph using the passive voice. Please revise

  8. This decision is deeply disappointing! Sue and Lori are excellent horsewomen and teachers. It is sad that Smith would put Sue, who has given so many years of service, out of a job. That is not to mention Lori and Jay and the rest of the barn staff who work hard to keep the horses safe and healthy. This will also be a huge loss for the community. I am deeply saddened for the loss of this place where I met so many friends– from Smith and the wider community.

    • Apparently, it won’t be that much of a loss for the community. If the community had patronized the farm more, the riding facility would likely still be in business.

  9. I think it’s disgraceful to have dumped this on students and staff right before exams and the long break.
    Hope the students who chose Smith College assuming they’d have a varsity team and a barn on campus will transfer out, taking their tuition dollars with them.

    • Mary Margaret C. says:

      Awww. Life is really tough for the self appointed elite. Worrying about one’s riding facility is a pretty nice problem to face as compared to issues like how to pay for rent, the student loan payments for that sociology or art history degree that is useless for a job, or whether to succumb and go for a drink with the boss.

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