Growing up, Diane Cross spent as much time with her horse as she did developing friendships.
Diane, now 17, was teased in middle school because her love of riding made her different.
Her horse world, and the identity she carved there, never quite meshed with her school world. That all changed this fall when she helped found Greenbrier High's equestrian team.
"It feels like we belong," said Diane, of the 15-student group. "Like lookey, we're here. This is who we are."
The group is the first public-school-sponsored equestrian team in the area and possibly the first in the state, said teacher Donna Rushing, the club sponsor and a lifetime horse enthusiast.
The unique club sparked interest from riders at other schools. Ms. Rushing said the hope is that those riders will form clubs, enough to have a school-based competitive riding league.
For now, the Greenbrier club rides a couple times a month, has seminars planned to learn more about their animals and creates a space to foster friendships with like-minded students.
"Riding is an individual sport," Ms. Rushing said. "It's so time-consuming these students have sacrificed other areas. There's been such a camaraderie (with this club) they wouldn't normally have."
The student riders had to jump a few bureaucratic hurdles before hitting the saddle under the school's name. School officials expressed concern of liability in a sport that can be dangerous. But the students got the O.K.
To join, a student needs his or her own horse and an interest in horses. There are so few riders out there the group has tried to be inclusive. They hope more guys will join. Right now, there's only one.
There are many different styles and forms of competitive riding and they're welcoming all - dressage, hunter-jumper, fox hunting, cross country and western.
Ms. Rushing said many of the club members wish to turn their passion into a career. Diane wants to compete in the 2000 Olympics. Jennifer Robbins wants to be a veterinarian.
Jennifer, 17, is a junior at Greenbrier. She said riding horses takes a commitment of time and she finds comfort in sharing those experiences with other people who know what goes into riding competitively.
"If you're going to ride you have to be dedicated," Jennifer said. "You sacrifice your social life. Now, it feels like you aren't alone."
Several riding members said their club is an expression of the possibilities that Columbia County's new $15 million high school offers. There are no traditions there and students have a chance to help shape the school's future, Ms. Rushing said.
"There's other new traditions being started here," Ms. Rushing. "These girls are the harbingers of something we hope lasts."
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