The sharp scream of power saws and the insistent thud of striking hammers cutting through the hot summer air in northern Greenville County will soon change to the sounds of nickering horses and thudding hooves.
That’s because a 48-acre equestrian center is taking shape in Taylors, bounded by Camp Creek Road and the South Tyger River and surrounded by trees and pastures with a clear view of the mountains.
North Greenville University is constructing the center for its new equestrian program which is offering the first of its classes this fall.
The university has wanted to offer an animal science and equestrian program for years, said Dr. James Epting, university president. University officials were able to initiate the program when they acquired the property a short horse ride south of the Tigerville-based university.
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“This was the perfect spot,” Epting said. “Not too close, not too far.”
Fourteen students have already signed up for the fall program, said Dr. Thomas Allen, a biology professor who is the dean of the College of Science and Math, which includes the animal science department and the department’s equestrian program.
Once completed, the facility will feature a 14,400-square-foot storage building, a 70-foot diameter round rink, and a 20,000-square-foot dressage arena with lights, surrounded by hedges and trees, according to Paul Epting, the university’s director of contracting and construction and director of the equestrian program.
A 37,000-square-foot covered arena will house events year-round, including shows, clinics and classes; and a 27,000-square-foot barn will feature 30 horse stalls, veterinarian center for routine care and a pre-veterinarian program, tack rooms, lobby for community gatherings, kitchen, locker rooms, office, and an academic area for the school of animal science, Epting said.
He expects the center will be completed in the next two to three years.
“We are starting slow, trying not to bite off more than we can chew to begin with,” he said. “But we want to grow to be the one of the best equestrian programs in the area.”
Support & outreach
Epting said the goal is to “pay as we go,” but he hopes the center will generate interest and, subsequently, community support and donations.
“We probably are trying to raise a couple more million dollars,” Epting said. “The timetable will vary according to how we can get folks interested in it, supporting the program and being a part of it.”
Epting also casts his eyes northward to the Tryon International Equestrian Center, a $100
million project that sits on 1,400 acres off U.S. 74 at Mill Springs, N.C. The Tryon center’s developers said once it’s completed it will be a resort, featuring a hotel/spa and equestrian center accommodating 1,000 horses.
“We are excited about what’s coming in the Tryon area,” Epting said. “Hopefully we can join hands with them along the way.”
He hopes the university can work out a partnership with the Tryon center. “We feel like we could be a natural for them and provide students, and students could benefit through internships serving there,” Epting said.
A ride through the Greenville County countryside quickly yields evidence of the area’s appreciation for all things equine — barns, fenced fields and grazing horses are commonplace.
The county ranked third among South Carolina counties with the most horses — 4,600 as of Dec. 31, 2004, according to a census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture–National Agricultural Statistics Service, the state Department of Agriculture, the South Carolina Farm Bureau and the South Carolina Horsemen’sCQ Council.
Dr. Adam Eichelberger, whose numerous titles at Clemson University include veterinarian for the Equine Extension service, said he doesn’t believe the numbers have changed much since then. The state had an estimated 84,300 horses when 2004 ended, according to the census.
The economic impact of the horse industry in South Carolina is more than $1
billion dollars annually, according to the Equine Extension website.
“In addition to the dollars generated by the equine industry, owners and animals improve our quality of life in many other ways,” according to the census summary.
“Some examples are equine-assisted therapy in the treatment of sexual abuse victims, law enforcement, equine rescue and rehabilitation, guard animals for other livestock such as cattle and goats, and teaching responsibility and work ethic to youth.”
Few private Christian universities and colleges offer equestrian programs, and Epting hopes to capitalize on that fact. “That gives us a niche to market and promote,” he said.
North Greenville University is a Christ-centered school committed to providing a quality education, Epting said. He believes many families are seeking such an educational environment for their children.
“There’s a whole market there we believe that we could use not only to give a great education in those areas but also be an area where we could change people’s lives,” he said.
Allen said students in the equestrian program would earn a Bachelor of Science degree and students can select one of two tracks. The first is the Equestrian track and the other is the Pre-Professional track, which is for those who want to go to graduate school or veterinarian school, he said.
“We believe there are a lot of students who would like to go to college but they want to do it around the horse,” Allen said. “A lot of ranchers’ children want to come here, and offering this type of service fills a big niche that’s been missing.”
The goal is to have 90-100 students in the four-year program at any one time, Allen said. “We are going to be able to reach that easily,” he said.
Lots going on
Meanwhile, even as the university begins its equestrian program, it is steaming ahead on other fronts.
The university expects to enroll 2,500 students this fall, continuing a streak of record enrollments. The university also is nearly finished with two 72-bedroom residential halls.
It has nearly completed 12 new tennis courts and just finished installing new turf on the lacrosse-soccer field. It soon will install new turf on its football field.
And it’s getting ready to double the size of its science building, and within a year it expects to start work on a 5,000-seat worship center.
“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to have students come and enjoy doing, and in this case you’ve got a group of students who enjoy horses, equestrian programs,” Epting said.
“They get a chance to enjoy that and at the same time get the best when it comes to academics. We are small enough care but we are large enough to challenge.