Maryville College Equestrian Team takes the reins as a family

Although its members regard it with high esteem, affection, and respect, Maryville College Equestrian Team (MCET)’s presence on campus has long languished on the periphery. 

“I feel like MCET is an extremely hidden gem,” writes sophomore Mason Progar. “A lot of people have no clue that the team exists, and that is quite the shame.” 

There are a few possible reasons for that “hidden” quality Progar notes. Equestrian riding is naturally a more obscure sport than something like basketball, football or softball. Obscurity engenders misconception; misconception engenders isolation. One such misconception is that you must have a certain skill set or be dedicated to the equine field. 

Funk stressed that the MCET takes all kinds: “We are a family, and we always enjoy taking on new members no matter your skill level or grade level at Maryville.” 

Beyond skill and grade level, though, the MCET also boasts a diversity of interest. MCET Vice-Captain Maddie Cunningham, a junior majoring in Developmental Psychology and minoring in Deaf Studies, plans to shift her equestrian pursuits to leisure activities post-graduation. The same can be said for junior Eliza Cheshire, who is aiming for graduate school and does not anticipate an equine adjacent career. 

The converse is similarly true. Darby Schiek, a sophomore, plans to open “her own training and sales barn in the near future… that specializes… in top performance horses and young horses.” Sophomore Josie McCullars majoring in Biology wants “to teach at my lesson program back home, specifically [with] kids with disabilities.” 

An Intercollegiate Horse Show (IHSA) member, Christen Khym founded the Maryville College Equestrian Team in 1994 and remains today as the team’s director and head trainer. Khym has been the team’s anchor since it’s inception; her programs and businesses through both Maryville College and a variety of other collegiate and professional institutions has catalyzed a generation of riders. 

“I chose Maryville for a few different reasons,” writes junior Robin Bannow for her MCET introductory social media post. “One big reason was the equestrian team. I had wanted to ride with Christen for a long time.” 

 Schiek had a similar story. “When I was ten, I moved to Penrose Farm where Christen and the Maryville Team used to be and started taking lessons and leasing horses from Christen… I have been riding with Christen since, so Maryville was really a no brainer!” 

It’s not just the leadership that attracts and maintains such a dedicated team; it’s the familial camaraderie and consistent support. Grace Biggs, a freshman majoring in Business Management, writes, “The team is truly a family inside or outside the barn.” 

McCullars agrees: “Being part of MCET has given me another family at school. We are all super tight knit and love to be around each other. We know we can rely on each other for just about anything!”

 The road to regionals for the MCET has been long going, but the end has finally arrived. March 3-6, they traveled to their final showing of the season at the University of the South where Cunningham and Bannow hoped to gain enough points in their respective disciplines—namely, Limit Over Fences and Limit Flat for Cunningham and Novice Flat for Bannow—to qualify like their teammate Schiek.

When asked about the final show of the season before regionals, Maryville College Equestrian Team (MCET) captain and senior Gillian Funk said, “It’s a little bittersweet as it is my last show…but I am excited that I have my teammates to cheer me on and support me.”

 The competition over last weekend was Funk’s last competition with the team, and Biggs’ last freshman ride. For now, however, the MCET will keep riding just as a family would—by being supportive, encouraging and kind. 

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