Now or Never: Equestrian Risks Going Under

The New Paltz equestrian team sweeps in latest show hosted by U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

SUNY New Paltz’s equestrian team is at risk of being discontinued after losing its funding from the Athletics Department. A GoFundMe page for the team was created on Sept. 11, but just $1,000 has been raised out of the $50,000 goal.

“There are considerable expenses that come with running the New Paltz equestrian team,” said Leah Giarmoleo, the creator of the GoFundMe and treasurer of the team. “Any funds donated will be used to help alleviate costs of competition and Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) league fees and use of our barn facility.”

The equestrian team competes as members of the IHSA which, according to its website, “encompasses 40 regions in eight zones with over 400 member colleges in 45 states and represents 10,000 members.” Marist College and Vassar College compete with the Hawks and four other schools in Zone 3, Region 3.

The equestrian team was also given the opportunity to add a National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) squad upon completing their transition from club to varsity. According to 2aDays, a company that writes articles to help athletes understand college athletics, the NCEA and IHSA vary in elements such as format, shows, recruiting and time commitment.

Active for over 20 years, the equestrian team finalized their transition to varsity in 2019 and made history in 2022 when the Hawks won their first post-season champion title. The team then went on to compete in the NCEA National Championships in Ocala, Florida.

Despite last year’s post-season success, however, the Hawks are wrestling with financial burdens that may make this season their last.

“In the spring of 2022, the Athletics Department told us that due to budget cuts, the NCEA team was going to be cut and our funding was going to be focused on the IHSA team,” said third-year equestrian and team captain Juliette Barkman.

At first, the team believed they would remain as a varsity sport and continue to have a budget from the Athletics Department, so the news wasn’t too earth-shattering.

“It was really hard for them [the NCEA team] and we all really empathized with that, but at the same time we were also under the impression that we would still be receiving funding from Athletics and our team would not suffer,” said Barkman.

That all changed about a month after the NCEA squad was axed, when the team was informed via email from the Athletics Department that their IHSA team was to go from varsity back to club immediately after the end of the season.

This meant that following their transition back to club, they would no longer receive any funding from the Athletics Department, and because they would be considered a new club, they’d have considerably less funding from New Paltz’s Student Association, which oversees more than 200 student organizations, ranging from sororities and fraternities to hall governments to club sports.

“We were all trying to fight back against the NCEA team being cut and they [the athletic director] did tell us that if we were able to acquire $100,000 in sponsorships and/or donations yearly, that’s the only way we’d be able to keep the NCEA team as well,” said Barkman.

In an effort to save the NCEA team, the Hawks started a fundraiser and collected about $25,000, but were later told by the Athletics Department that they hadn’t “adhered to the rules about fundraising as a varsity team,” and every single dollar was returned.

Now officially back at the club level, the team’s budget consists of the $5,000 from the Student Association, the GoFundMe and additional donations from team members and families and it’s not nearly enough.

“After we pay for our home show and next month’s facility fee, that’s probably it,” said Giarmoleo, referring to the amount of money they have left. 

“We would probably be able to pay to still ride and practice, but for competing we would probably have to put a pause on that,” added Barkman.

Not all hope for the team is lost, however.

According to Barkman, the Athletics Department promised last year that they would give the equestrian team $25,000 dollars upon their return to club, split between the two semesters to help “get us off our feet, but after that we’re on our own.”

“We’ve also applied for a generous amount of sponsorships with equine-related businesses as well as general sport-related businesses,” said Barkman.

While they haven’t heard back yet, she said the process can take a couple of months. In the meantime, they’ve been doing small-scale fundraisers like tabling, raffle baskets and planning bake sales. You can stay up-to-date on their fundraising efforts through their Instagram @newpaltzequestrian.

“I consider myself a very optimistic person. I think if we do make it through the end of this year, it will be by the skin of our teeth. I’m really hoping we’ll get the money because that would be a huge help,” expressed Barkman.

Even with these efforts, the situation has nonetheless been stressful and turbulent for the two dedicated equestrians.

“Everything happened so fast, now it’s basically thrown at Juliette and I to figure out how to go about the funding,” explained Giarmoleo. “It’s hard to know what the next step is.”

“When I joined my freshman year, it was this amazing, unheard-of opportunity. It was totally free, fully funded by Athletics. It was what got me through school. It’s just been disappointing and disheartening,” added Barkman.

Giarmoleo conveyed a similar sentiment about the importance of the team in her life.

“This team helps me get through school. I’d be a mess without this team. We’re like a family,” said Giarmoleo.

“I feel like I’ve grown up on this team. I have learned so much about myself, my confidence and leadership skills, while also creating a lot of great friendships and professional relationships.” 

The Hawks will travel to Crosswinds Equestrian Center in LaGrangeville for their next show against Vassar College on Nov. 11. The Hawks are currently fifth in their division out of seven teams with 40 points.