Sweet Briar College may be closing in August, but it’s riding tradition will stay in central Virginia. Sweet Briar equestrian director Merrilee “Mimi” Wroten will join Lynchburg College as director of riding as the college works to expand its equestrian program. Wroten has been head of the acclaimed program at Sweet Briar since 2011 and before that served as associate director since 1999. She will remain at Sweet Briar until the school closes in August.
“It became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition was founded upon,” Wroten said in a Lynchburg College news release on the changes.
Mimi is a USEF “R” judge and holds the ANRC top rider rating. She has judged shows from Georgia to New York. Wroten has coached several award-winning teams, including an individual national champion and national reserve champion in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association; multiple Old Dominion Athletic Conference champion and reserve champion teams; and several American National Riding Committee champion and reserve champion teams.
Lynchburg College is finalizing an agreement with Thistledown Farm to host its equestrian program.
See the news release here.
Wroten posted this message on Sweet Briar’s facebook page March 26.
As we all process our way through the shock of the announcement about our beloved Sweet Briar and move toward addressing the uncertainty of the future, each of us has tried to find a path forward for the ideals and culture that have made Sweet Briar riding so special. It was this pursuit of a way forward that led me to take a call from Lynchburg College Athletics Director Jon Waters. During the call and throughout numerous follow up conversations as Jon shared the Lynchburg vision and hope for expansion of their existing riding program, it became apparent that a unique opportunity existed to enhance collegiate riding at a local college, provide continuity of instruction for Sweet Briar students and to preserve many of the principles of excellence that the Sweet Briar riding tradition has been founded upon. It is for these reasons that I have accepted the position as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College. I will finish out the semester and my obligations with Sweet Briar College before stepping into my new role as the Director of Riding at Lynchburg College.
As you can imagine, this decision did not come without a tremendous amount of soul searching and research about the Lynchburg leadership and it’s commitment to excellence. As someone who has spent more than half my life in service to the students, horses and community of Sweet Briar, I fully understand how the program has impacted lives for generations. However, with the path that has been laid out for the college, the only prudent course at this time is to move forward with this new endeavor and attempt to maintain as much continuity with staff, horses and instruction as possible.
While many of the details of the Lynchburg College riding program future are still evolving, the program is very excited about the opportunity to work out of Thistledown Farm in Lynchburg, Virginia. We will work rapidly to develop this facility into a collegiate riding facility with 22 stalls, 4 large fields, 2 large paddocks, 1 small ring, and we will enlarge & cover a ring that will be approximately 120’ x 220’. Lynchburg College is working to acquire approximately 12-15 of the SBC horses to assure the standards of excellence that we have come to expect. Additional resources will be developed as demand dictates.
I am very confident that Jon Waters, Athletic Director and the institutional leadership at Lynchburg understand and respect how special the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center is to the equine world. In light of this, they have assured me that in the event that Sweet Briar College is open to students and operating a riding program in the Fall of 2015, I would be free to return to lead the Sweet Briar College program with the probability of Lynchburg riders becoming a part of the Rogers Riding Center community.
To my fellow alums and to all of those who have been touched by the greatness of the Sweet Briar riding program, I hope that you will see this as a unique opportunity to continue to serve the central Virginia area and the horse world with the same spirit and ideals that made our program so unique.
I appreciate all that you have done for the Sweet Briar College Riding Program and myself.