STEUBENVILLE - No horsing around, the Franciscan University of Steubenville has an equestrian club new to its offerings, one catering to pleasure riding and competition.
Its official name is the Franciscan University Equestrian Club, and Nicholas Freas is the horse enthusiast behind it.
"I founded this club actually just a few weeks ago in October. I founded it mostly because I come from a riding background from my hometown in Georgia where I worked at a rehabilitation center for injured and abused horses and from there I got a lot of riding experience," said Freas, who is studying biology.
Marissa Gump, front, is the instructor-coach of the newly established Franciscan University Equestrian Club with members, from left, back, Elena Murdock, Mary Duran, Melanie Williams and Nicholas Freas, founder
-- Janice R. Kiaski
Nicholas Freas and Melanie Williams ride.
Marissa Gump adjusts the stirrups for Mary Duran.
Elana Murdock gets ready to ride.
"Coming to the school, I realized there was no equestrian club, and I also had friends who came from the same background as I did with riding experience, and they were disappointed that they could not ride any more and had to give it up because it was such a significant part of their childhood," Freas said.
That being the case, Freas initially connected last winter with fellow horse enthusiast Marissa Gump through Split Rail Feed & Seed on North Seventh Street, Steubenville, that she and her husband, Bob, operated until recently. Initially interested in taking riding lessons, Freas later contacted the Gumps in August with the idea of starting a riding team.
The Gumps operate B-Mar Stables Boarding & Therapeutic Riding in the rural Steubenville area off county Road 45 (Sixteen Ridge).
The club was approved by the university in the months to come, and Gump will instruct and coach interested students at events and at their farm.
"The students will ride twice a week. Officers of the club will be appointed in January when the winter semester starts. We are still taking applications and anticipate five to 10 students for the first semester," Gump said.
University students interested in becoming involved can contact Freas at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the club's Facebook page at Franciscan Equestrian Club. Applications are being accepted through Jan. 1.
The club's Facebook page notes the Franciscan University Equestrian Club is "a newly formed club, which gives Franciscan University students the opportunity to both ride on a regular basis and compete for the university, if they are so inclined, and learn how to ride and interact with horses if they have little riding experience."
Gump noted the group is called a club, not a varsity sport as yet although the students are registered through the IHSA, an acronym for the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, and have the opportunity to compete on that level.
The students involved lease the horses and equipment, according to Gump.
"The students will be riding English and western. To be more specific, hunt seat, dressage, jumping and western pleasure. I will travel with them to the intercollegiate shows as well as coaching from home. They will have hack time and lessons to prepare for the horse shows," Gump said. Each club member also will volunteer 10 hours a semester at the barn.
Gump said she has 20-plus years of equine experience to her credit.
"My emphasis has been on hunters; however, I have a background with jumpers and cross country," she said. "While attending Ohio State University, I rode on the equestrian team for two years and competed on the intercollegiate show circuit. I was the barn manager and trainer for Pine Hollow Stables (in Cambridge) before opening B-Mar Stables," said Gump, who said her horse education and training continue as she works toward PATH instructor certification.
PATH is an acronym for Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsmanship International.
Freas said that although he doesn't own a horse himself, he likes horses.
"It was through the (horse) rehabilitation center that I found my passion to become an equine veterinarian," Freas said. "That's what I am studying for, why I am in biology now to hopefully accomplish that."
Participation in the club can be a source of pleasure riding but "it also has a very competitive aspect to it. If members are interested, they can join the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association with us as a team, and they can compete against other schools at Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, for first place and go on to how ever far we seem to make it, whether winning the zone championships or national championships," Freas said.
The benefit of membership in the IHSA is that it supplies the horses and tack needed for competing, according to Freas, who talked about the club during a recent riding session at B-Mar Stables where he was joined by three other club members - Melanie Williams, Elena Murdock and Mary Duran.
All three expressed enthusiasm for horses and enthusiasm for the newly organized club.
Williams, a native of South Bend, Ind., spent a couple weeks of several summers at a camp helping out with the horses there.
"I haven't had any professional lessons or anything, but I just loved riding whenever I can, whenever I get the opportunity," said Williams. "I ride western, and I know what I'm doing, but I'm going to hopefully get some lessons so I can refresh myself and learn more."
Murdock started riding when she was 9 and has a black Arabian quarterhorse mix.
"I rode western on him and competed in barrel racing in Iowa for a couple of years," Murdock said, noting back surgery in 2003 put a temporary end to that so she switched to English and dressage instead.
"I was really excited when they started this up because I hadn't ridden in three years," Murdock said.
From Virginia, Duran has ridden for the past six years at a facility near her home.
"I've always had a passion since I was little. I love them," Duran said of horses.
"When I saw flyers for an equestrian club I got excited, went on Facebook and sent a request," she said. "I have only competed once so when they said competition I thought it would be a good idea to try out and see if it's something I'd enjoy doing. I'm all into this," Duran said.
(Kiaski can be contacted at email@example.com.)