With four barns, over 300 acres of grassy pastures, more than 100 horses, and the newly-dedicated Suzanne Mott Dansby arena, the equestrian program at St. Andrews University has come a long way from its roots.
The program began as a riding club in 1969, first taking form with a few horses and a small makeshift barn on the school’s campus. In 1982, the program moved to Singing Wood Farm on McLeod Road.
When the school moved its therapeutic riding program to St. Andrews’ property on Hasty Road in 2001, the rest of the equestrian program followed.
On Tuesday, a group of students, staff members, and St. Andrews officials gathered to dedicate one of the equestrian center’s two covered riding arenas to noted dressage rider Suzanne Mott Dansby, sister of St. Andrews alumnus Stewart Dansby.
“Today is a very special day in the history of St. Andrews, the dedication of this lovely arena to a woman who is a very special horsewoman and a very special person,” said Peggy McElveen, director of St. Andrews’ equestrian program.
Stewart Dansby, a member of St. Andrews’ class of 1978, is the co-founder, owner, and director of American Cadastre, Inc., a consulting and development firm specializing in geographic information systems for the public sector. He has also been involved in promoting economic development and tourism in his native Birmingham, Ala. and served on the St. Andrews board of trustees from 1982-1990 and again from 2005-2007.
“Last spring, Stewart made a $500,000 gift to be used by the university to support its greatest needs, especially merit and need-based institutional financial aid for our students,” said Paul Baldasare, president of St. Andrews University. “But he also asked that his gift be used as a form of challenge, specifically to encourage other current and former trustees to make significant gifts and pledges of their own. Because of Stewart’s leadership, trustees responded overwhelmingly, with gifts that exceeded the amount that Stewart gave - exactly what he hoped his gift would do.”
At Dansby’s request, St. Andrews dedicated one of its equestrian arenas in honor of his sister, an accomplished rider in her own right.
Suzanne Mott Dansby, riding as Suzanne Dansby-Phelps, competed at the highest levels of dressage with her Holsteiner gelding Cooper. In 2006, they were among the alternates for the U.S. dressage team at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany.
“My sister Suzanne has followed her passion for horses and has truly earned a reputation as one of the finest equestrians in the United States,” Dansby said of his sister. “So it is only fitting, then, that her name be associated with one of the finest university equestrian programs in the United States.”
Suzanne Dansby began riding professionally when she was not much older than many of St. Andrews’ students, shortly after graduating from college when she realized that a more traditional career did not suit her. She now trains out of her Dancing Horse Farm in Atlanta, Ga.
“My dressage career started shortly after graduating from college,” said Dansby. “I had worked in an office for a year and just couldn’t stand it. I fell in love with dressage and it was the beginning of the end, about 27 years, ago.”
She also advised students to take advantage of the opportunities at their fingertips during their years at St. Andrews.
“An open heart, continuous learning, and determination will carry you as far as you want to go,” Dansby said. “It starts right here, where you are, with this premier facility and beautiful arena. It is a privilege for you to have such a place as this to carry out your passion for horses as far as you want to take it.”
The facility itself is responsible for many students’ initial attraction to St. Andrews, where they ultimately stay because of the horses, instructors, and small campus atmosphere. Prior to the dedication, St. Andrews students gave demonstrations in the four equestrian disciplines taught at St. Andrews: hunters, jumpers, dressage and Western reining.
“I came here because of this facility,” said Lacy Burke, a Raleigh equine studies major specializing in hunt seat. “Other schools I looked at didn’t even have one, and if they did it was nothing like this. When I came I was like, this is where I need to be, this is like home. It was a huge part of why I came.”
The expansive equestrian center has allowed St. Andrews to host intercollegiate competitions between schools from throughout the mid-Atlantic, putting the school on the map for those seeking preparation for work in the horse industry.
“I look at this arena and it gives me great pride and great joy, but mostly it makes me so happy for generations yet to come of St. Androids who will have this experience,” said McElveen. “This arena has enabled us to host major regional and national competitions, and it has brought much honor and acclaim to St. Andrews. The banner behind you that says ‘St. Andrews welcomes you to the equestrian center’ appears on no less than 1,000 Facebook pages from people having their picture taken with their ribbons.”