For head coach of the Mississippi State University Equestrian Team’s Western Team Ashley Glenn, there is so much more to her coaching job than maintaining a competitive edge in the show ring.
“I love horses, I love coaching the kids, I love the competition, but I think the biggest thing is that we are put in a position where we can be mentors to a lot of people, and at least guide them through the couple of years they are here for school,” Glenn said. "There are so many life lessons you can learn on the team between responsibility, time management, being competitive, building confidence. It’s given Holly (Evans, English Team coach) and I a great opportunity to share a lot of positive things with them."
Glenn, herself, is no stranger to the equestrian realm or collegiate riding. She comes from a family who raised and showed quarter horses and began to compete in horse shows starting around the age of 13.
At a young age, Glenn was already making a statement in the equestrian community, as she qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association’s Youth World Show and American Quarter Horse Congress. As a result of her incredible demonstration of riding ability, Glenn secured a scholarship on the NCAA Texas A&M Equestrian Team and rode during her junior and senior year.
She then went on to coach at the NCAA level, first at New Mexico State University for three years, then University of Tennessee Martin for four years before her hire as MSU's head coach in 2015. In her time at MSU, Glenn has seen the team grow from a handful of riders to a roster of 35 competing members. Despite the work that goes into caring for the horses, training and coaching at horse shows, Glenn takes no salary, and every penny of the fees the riders pay goes toward their show fees.
“A lot of other schools like Auburn, for example, they charge their semester fee and then on top of that, the kids pay their entry fees, a coach’s fee every competition and their hotels,” Glenn said.
The fees received on a semester basis are the only funds they accrue aside from fundraising, as they receive no funding from the university. In addition to coaching and mentoring, Glenn works tirelessly to fundraise to both satisfy the show and travel fees of her riders and in the hope that the team can one day become NCAA recognized.
“We do have the ultimate goal of one day becoming an NCAA team,” Glenn said. “I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of funding. A lot of things have to fall into place for that to be able to happen, but that’s definitely something we look to in the future.”
This dream could soon become a reality, as growth is all that the MSU Equestrian Team has seen since Glenn took the reins.
In years past, the Equestrian Team has never once had the home-arena advantage, since they lacked the necessary funding to hold their own show. However, this year the Western Team will hold its first competition on Nov. 9 at the Mississippi Horse Park. The show will host six teams: Auburn University, the University of Alabama, the University of Mississippi, Judson College and Berry College. Glenn said she and her team are excited for the chance to hold their first competition and anticipate success for the team at this particular horse show and the season as a whole.
“I don’t want to be overly confident, but I do feel we’re in the best position we have ever been in on the Western side to take potentially multiple riders, individually, to Nationals and we are really hoping to take a team,” Glenn said.
Glenn also encourages the MSU community to come out and show their support at their first show at home and said the team aspect makes it much more entertaining than a typical horse show.
"We are loud, we have our cheers, we hoop and holler for each person and their patterns. It makes the atmosphere so much more exciting that way,” Glenn said.
Aside from overall team growth, Glenn’s attitude and commitment to the team has allowed it to grow and for the members to develop into better riders, and ultimately, better people.
Kaitlyn Laurent, MSU animal and dairy science graduate and former Equestrian Team member, said Glenn has prepared the team to feel comfortable riding any horse they may randomly draw at shows, regardless of temperament.
"We jump up on a horse, we don't know anything about them, but she (Glenn) has drilled into us if something happens, remain calm," Laurent said. "She has taught us that if you're calm on the horse, they're going to be calm. If you stiffen up, they're going to stiffen up. She does a great job of training how to deal with the different aspects of riding."
Hart Daniels, an Equestrian Team rider and senior chemical engineering major from Vaughan, said Glenn has both made an impact on the team and her own individual growth.
“This being my last year, I want to make the most of what she gives to us, because she does give a lot to us. She runs this Horse Unit and this takes up so much of her time, and she also does so much for us,” Daniels said. “She is constantly working to improve this program and this team and to make sure that everyone knows what a great team that we are. She constantly pushes us to be good riders and to have good morals and good ethics. I will be forever grateful for everything that she has done.”
Hart said it is even a running joke among the team that Glenn and her husband are like a second set of parents because of their dedication to the team and the members on an individual level outside of riding.
“The first year we went to Semi-Finals, her parents let us stay at their house on the way up there, and she is always more than happy to take time out of her schedule to help us if one of us has an issue,” Daniels said. “She’s always the first one that we know that we can call and she is going to be there. She really is just an amazing coach.”
Although it is a bittersweet year for Daniels as she is in her fourth and final year on the team, she said she knows that the team will further develop and flourish under Glenn’s leadership.
“She has been a great asset to the team,” Daniels said. "I know that the team, even after I leave, will continue to grow and become even better than what it is because she is here to push it to that level.”