Near Campbell Avenue and Roger Road on a hot, dusty Tuesday afternoon, University of Arizona competitors run through their paces.
They’re tired, as evidenced by the way they drop their heads every so often, but they keep up with commands offered by UA instructor Laura Walker to run, walk, then run again.
In spite of the sweat soaking their backs and the froth dripping from their mouths, the athletes look pretty good during this training.
And the UA students on their backs don’t look too tumbledown, either.
Zip, Henna, Deb and Bo – their barn names, visitors are told, not their professional ones – are part of the little-known UA equestrian team. In addition to providing the four-legged part of the equestrian training for Intercollegiate Horseman’s Association competitions, the horses are also instructors.
Students get hands-on study with everything from embryo transfer and semen preservation to horsemanship, thoroughbred breeding and weanling management. Quarter horses are raised as well.
And the equine athletes are in need of help, supporters say.
“The Tucson horse community has been very supportive and donated a lot. Everything we have is donated,” said Carol Grubb, pointing toward the saddles the horses were wearing. “The problem is, it is not necessarily the right sizes. So they make do.”
Grubb, a UA alumna, owner of four horses and volunteer at Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary in Green Valley, doesn’t want the horses to have to make do anymore.
She’s organized a daylong event Saturday, the Equine Health Care Clinic, to raise funds to buy properly fitted saddles, saddle pads and bridles for the UA horses.
Co-sponsored by UA’s Equine Sciences Program and local philanthropist Diana Madaras, the educational event is open to the public and costs $40 for the day, with discounts offered to those who buy tickets early. UA students can attend free.
There will be sessions on low-level laser therapy, equine sports massage therapy and saddle evaluation.
While the two-legged partners on the equestrian team have held a number of fundraising events to cover their expenses, this is the first event to raise funds specifically to buy equipment for the horses.
“We’re the only school in Arizona with an equestrian team, so we have to travel to California to compete,” said Leah Penrod, a graduate assistant in equine sciences and the team’s coach. “Everyone buys their own uniforms, and we have bake sales and car washes to raise money for event fees and travel.”
Erin Prendergast, a first-year member of the team, said members can use donated riding pants, jackets or shirts if they lack funds to buy their own, but, like the saddles for the horses, “what’s donated doesn’t always fit.”
Regardless, both Penrod and Prendergast said it is more important for the horses to have well-fitted saddles than for them to have a shirt one size to small, because back injuries are so serious for horses.
“If a saddle doesn’t fit, the horse can get muscle atrophy, asymmetry and back problems,” Grubb explained. “There is a domino effect. They start walking a certain way to compensate, which then affects their legs or feet. Saddle trouble is reflected in problems throughout the horse’s body.”
Grubb came up with the idea for the fundraising clinic last year when speaking with the woman who trims her horses’ hooves. That woman also trims the approximately 50-head herd belonging to UA.
“She knew I had training in saddle evaluation and said I should look at the UA horses,” Grubb said.
Grubb discovered that some of the UA horses – all of whom were donated to the equine sciences program – had signs of saddle damage.
She approached Walker and UA professor Mark Arns, chairman of the equine committee.
“They fully agreed the horses needed better equipment, but there simply isn’t the money,” Grubb said. “I committed right there that I would do something, and the time just worked out to do this clinic now.”
The program’s budget, Arns said, is about $80,000, which comes primarily from the sale of yearlings and goes right back into paying for feed, veterinary bills and operations at the barns.
“These horses do an amazing array of jobs for humans, and it is our responsibility to know what will help them become better athletes and stay healthy,” Grubb said. “This clinic is a way to support them.”
DID YOU KNOW?
• The UA Equine Center, at Campbell Avenue and Roger Road, is home to a highly recognized thoroughbred breeding herd that has produced several of Arizona’s top 2- and-3-year-old racehorses.
• A moderately priced saddle costs $3,500, a bridle costs $150, and a saddle pad costs $200.
• A “bare-bones” riding outfit for Western competition costs about $430.
• A “bare-bones” riding outfit for English competition costs about $750.
Sources: UA Animal Sciences Web site, Leah Penrod, UA equestrian show team coach
IF YOU GO
What: Fundraiser for the University of Arizona 4 Legged Athletes
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: UA Equine Center, 4101 N. Campbell Ave. (Campbell Avenue and Roger Road).
Cost: $25 for half-day, $40 for whole day, $35 prepaid. UA students admitted free.
Contact: Carol Grubb at 749-4026 and 405-6054 for registration information