Oct. 7, 2011
ATHENS, Ga. - The Georgia equestrian team has high standards. The team has won five national championships, including three straight from 2008-2010, two reserve national championships and has six Southern Equitation Championships to its credit. The riders have also put an emphasis on academics, striving for a combined GPA of 3.25. With the amount of hours the team dedicates both in the ring and in the classroom, the riders have little free time. Despite their busy schedules, team members still find time to go out and give back to the community that has supported them.
"Giving back to the community is so important to our team because the residents of Bishop and Athens are always coming to our home meets to cheer us on and we love showing our appreciation for them," Sarah Gravely, the team's head of charitable contributions said.
Last year, equestrian team members volunteered over 350 hours to the community and have set a goal of 425 hours for this year. In the past, the team has selected several organizations and worked closely with them throughout the years on different events and projects. Among the organizations that the team has worked with are the Boys and Girls Club and the Athens homeless shelter.
Added Gravely, "We went once a week to the Boys and Girls Club and tutored students in math and reading. I would say that the Boys and Girls club was the team's favorite because the kids were so much fun and were so interested in horses. We even planned a day for the Boys and Girls Club to take a field trip to the barn and see what we do.
"For the homeless shelter, we would get together once a month and cook a meal for the shelter. The shelter is an all women and children shelter and it was so rewarding to cook together as a team and then serve a meal to those in need. We all loved working with the homeless shelter because the women were so appreciative and we got to have team bonding once a month. It was fun seeing who the cooks of the team really were!"
This year, the team will again be working with the homeless shelter as well as Habitat for Humanity, participating in a Habitat home build on November 5. It will also work on a few smaller projects with the Athens Girl Scouts and participate in UGA's "Shop With a Bulldog."
"Giving back to the community is so important for any team and I think our team really takes this to heart" said Gravely. "Every time I send an email to the team about a new opportunity, within 20 minutes I have at least half the team asking to participate."
One of the more popular events is "Shop with a Bulldog." The riders divide into groups and raise money for kids, who then get to go shopping with the team for toys during the holiday season.
In addition to the team organized community service projects, several members of the team take it upon themselves to give back. Junior captain Ali Sullivan and junior Jacqueline Johnson each take time out of their holiday break to travel to the Grand Canyon and vaccinate wild horses in the area. The riders have also volunteered at local animal shelters and raised money and assembled beds for animal shelters in the Atlanta area.
"The importance of community service is really stressed on our team because we all know that there is so much more to being a Georgia student-athlete than the contributions we give out in the ring," Sullivan said. "We are all so privileged to be on this team. We have the unique opportunity to use our talents and connections to help others in need. We all know the contributions we make in the community will far outlast the records and titles we achieve in our sport."
It is not only the performances in the ring and in the classroom that make the Georgia equestrian team a champion. It's the dedication to making the Athens community a better place than when the riders arrived that makes the squad one of the premier equestrian teams in the country.