Sporting Scene

Savannah’s Tack Stars

Savannah College of Art and Design’s equestrian team aims for a third national title

Photo: Jeff Holt

Head coach Ashley Henry, with Audition.

Given that Meredith Denny is senior at Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the world’s top magnets for the young and creative, you might think that her head-to-toe riding outfit—short-brim helmet, breeches, knee-high leather boots—is a convincing costume for a student play or film. But follow her a few miles away from the school’s downtown campus to its world-class equestrian center, and watch her confidently swing into the saddle atop a chestnut stallion, and you quickly realize this is no fleeting role.

Denny, who hails from Knoxville, is a co-captain of SCAD’s sixty-member equestrian team, an elite squad that surpassed nearly five hundred other schools to win the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association national championship, the pinnacle for college riders, in 2015 and 2016. They aim to make it a three-peat this season.

gg0516_sportingscene_01Whoa, Nellie—do art schools steeped in dramatic writing and sculpture studies typically have horses, barns, and full-fledged equestrian-study programs? Nope. SCAD is unique in that regard, and the combination is an inspired one. “It’s a great sell for students who are design oriented and athletic,” says the head coach, Ashley Henry. She would know. Henry attended SCAD as a student, drawn by the chance to pursue her twin passions for riding and jewelry design. Since becoming coach in 2005, she has stressed physical fitness for her riders. She even mandates yoga to improve posture in the saddle, a vital aspect of Hunter Seat Equitation, the English-derived style of flat-ground-and-jumps riding in which SCAD competes.

The school’s Ronald C. Waranch Equestrian Center is a masterpiece in its own right. On its eighty perfectly landscaped acres, team members put sixty-five SCAD-owned steeds through the paces in three competition rings and a huge, all-weather covered pavilion. Horses graze lush pastures and return to roomy stalls in two pristine barns equipped with automatic fly-spray systems, security cameras, and a veterinary clinic. Overall, the center exudes bucolic calm even as students hustle through the tack rooms or jump their mounts. 

“No doubt these facilities attract top riders,” says the equestrian program director, Eddie Federwisch, “but the dynamic nature of a place like SCAD is a big factor, too. An equestrian student is already driven, and when you add that artist mentality, you get something special.”

gg0516_sportingscene_02“Riding is a major stress reliever for me,” Denny says. “But being on a team has pushed me to become much better. We used to be up-and-coming, and now we’re sitting on top. As long as we keep working hard, we should stay that way.”

A graphic design major, Denny recently completed an internship with an equine photographer, another example of the melded pursuits that Henry says are common on her team.

“We have equestrian studies majors, film, architecture, historic preservation majors—and we have so many who are fashion designers,” she says. “People forget just how inherently artistic the equestrian world is.”