Francisco Caba Guil '19 and horse Samson

Equine Excellence

Celebrating a Storied History of Champions

Posted December 15, 2023 by Carolyn Wilson ’82

To put it in the words of Patty Graham-Thiers, the Equine Studies Program at Emory & Henry College is “bursting at the seams.”

2019 IHSA Equine National Champions

E&H Equestrian Ring Person looking over the Intermont Equestrian Arena Equestrian Awards

The professor and department head of the College’s Equine Studies Department couldn’t be more pleased with the success of a program that’s possibly attracting more students than ever before in its history.

Kirby the horse KirbyAt a time when many colleges are struggling financially and looking for creative ways to boost enrollment, Emory & Henry is creating a culture for student success. And the 187-year-old liberal arts college is flourishing amidst a new journey in the horse industry.

In 2014, Emory & Henry took over the management and ownership of the esteemed Virginia Intermont (VI) Equestrian Program when the Bristol, Virginia, college was forced to close.

To honor its origins, the program was renamed Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry College. The equestrian center continues to operate at a location off Exit 10 off I-81 in Bristol, Virginia, until a new state-of-the-art facility will be completed adjacent to the College campus in the next few years. Currently, the equestrian center offers two indoor arenas and an outdoor arena, 15 large paddocks, four tack rooms and a classroom.

Upon the closing of Virginia Intermont, 24 equestrian students remained in the program and made the move to Emory & Henry to complete the curriculum.

“The equestrian team had just won a national championship the weekend before the announcement that VI was closing,” said Lisa Moosmueller-Terry, who joined the Emory & Henry staff after working in the equestrian program at Virginia Intermont since 1997.

As director of the equestrian center and head riding coach at Emory & Henry, Moosmueller-Terry has witnessed tremendous growth in the program, which expands to include 137 students enrolled in the Equine Studies Program this fall.

According to the director, three-fourths of those students are majoring in equine studies or equine assisted therapy, with the remainder of the students serving on the equestrian team while pursuing other majors.

“It’s amazing to think that a program that came out of a college that closed–and that was so storied in history–has survived,” said Moosmueller-Terry. “That’s something that doesn’t happen often. It’s pretty impressive. Emory & Henry is forward-thinking and changing with the times. The College is producing a product that students want to be part of.”

President of Emory & Henry, John W. Wells said, “The Intermont Equestrian Program at Emory & Henry brings students to our campus who understand the value of discipline, patience and determination. With these values, equestrian students enjoy tremendous success and connection to our campus and with the world of work. Our equestrian students are an important part of the diverse experience that’s helping us to grow.”

“The Intermont Equestrian Program at Emory & Henry brings students to our campus who understand the value of discipline, patience and determination.”
-President John W. Wells

Continuing to Thrive

Equestrian students Virginia Intermont 2014 IDA National ChampionsThe award-winning and nationally recognized program has enjoyed enormous success throughout the years as one of the first in the country to offer a four-year degree in an equestrian program.

The program has won an impressive 22 national championships, five under the Emory & Henry banner. Emory & Henry competes in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) and the American National Riding Commission (ANRC).

“We have a lot of national awareness because of our ability to win at national competitions. We hope that equates to successful fundraising for our new facility,” said Graham-Thiers, who received a doctorate degree in equine nutrition in 1998 from Virginia Tech. She began teaching at Virginia Intermont in 1994 and followed the program when it was moved to Emory & Henry in 2014. Graham-Thiers is known nationally for her work in equine nutrition and exercise physiology.

Under the Emory & Henry umbrella, the Equine Studies Program continues to thrive.

Since being adopted by Emory & Henry, the curriculum has expanded to include a new major within the Equine Studies Program.

Students enrolled in the Equine Assisted Therapy program, under the direction of Jessica Denniston, study a range of treatments that involve activities with horses to promote human physical and mental health. The program operates in conjunction with the psychology department at the College and in partnership with Blue Mountain Therapy in Abingdon.

“We’ve received a lot of interest in the program and we hope it’s going to be a big addition to E&H Equine Studies,” said Graham-Thiers.

Tried and True

Lisa Moosmueller-Terry demonstrating how to properly wrap a horse's leg Lisa Moosmueller-Terry demonstrating how to properly wrap a horse's legOverall, Emory & Henry has maintained what Moosmueller-Terry described as a “tried and true” curriculum that has been in place for decades.

“We often joked that VI got dubbed the horse college. A lot of students came there for horsemanship,” she said.

“Our students go on to work in all aspects of the industry. It’s really hard today to go to a barn or horse show where you will not find alumni of the program working,” she said. “They are everywhere. Employers contact us, seeking out our students because we have such a good reputation providing knowledgeable students in the industry.”

According to Moosmueller-Terry, many barns in the region are either owned or operated by graduates of the program.

“Our success has had quite an impact on the local equestrian community,” she said.

The Equine Studies Program offers students opportunities to work in management positions, and also instructors, assistant trainers, and even leaders in equine nutrition and research.

Many of the students will seek out work as grooms for trainers, providing every aspect of a horse’s maintenance and care.

Margo Thomas is one of those success stories.

Thomas graduated from Virginia Intermont in 2011 after pursuing a major in the equine program. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native said the College “felt like the right fit.”

Thomas was such a strong student that she received the Ideal Intermont award during her senior year, which recognized her exemplary accomplishments during her college experience.

Madison Bonner '20 and horse Kirby Madison Bonner ’20 and horse KirbySo, it’s no surprise that Thomas continued to excel after graduation, finding her niche in the horse industry as a groom for U.S. Olympic show jumper Laura Kraut. For the past four years, Thomas has traveled the world, residing half of the year in Wellington, Florida, and the other half in the Netherlands.

Earlier in November, Thomas and Kraut traveled to Quillota, Chile, for the 2023 Pan American Games, where Kraut and a team of riders won the Jumping Team gold medal, qualifying them to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Thomas also groomed for Kraut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where team members brought home a silver medal.

The Intermont Equestrian Program at Emory & Henry attracts a wide range of students. “We have students from throughout the U.S. and around the world, including Germany and Spain,” Moosmueller-Terry said.

During their study at Emory & Henry, students participate in hands-on learning through unique research and work opportunities, from performing equine health-related research studies to assisting in running collegiate horse shows.

The majority of the equine studies students arrive with a background with horses and a passion for learning more. “You don’t have to be a rider in order to succeed in the industry,” said Moosmueller-Terry. “Handling horses, managing barns and doing things on the ground is also a big part of it.”

Students outside the major can enroll in a physical education course to learn how to ride for enjoyment.

The Virginia Intermont Horsemanship Team of 1935 The Virginia Intermont Horsemanship Team of 1935

Building on a Legacy

VI Horsemanship student VI Horsemanship studentIntermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry is building on a legacy that started more than a hundred years ago.

The book Virginia Intermont College: One Hundred & Thirty Years was written and published in 2016 by Mary Lou Smith, an alumna of Virginia Intermont College and an educator at the College for 57 years.

According to Smith, the first mention of horseback riding was when the school was called Southwest Virginia Institute in 1891-92. Early annuals listed a riding club in 1932. The first horse stables and a riding ring were built at VI in 1938.

Decades later, in 1972, Virginia Intermont expanded its two-year horsemanship program to a four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree.

A new riding complex at Virginia Intermont was completed at the end of the 1973-74 school year, and classes began in 1975.

Mary Harrington was hired to develop one of the first collegiate horsemanship programs in the U.S. at Virginia Intermont. The first bachelor of arts degrees in the equine four-year program were awarded to students in the 1974-75 school year.

In her book, Smith writes, “The equine program at Virginia Intermont College has been one of the top-notch collegiate programs in the nation for many years. There has been such a smooth transition with Emory & Henry College taking over the program that these successes should continue.”

New Developments

Emory & Henry Equestrian Center Arena Rendering

Equestrian Center Outdoor Ring A 3-D rendering of a bird's eye view the Emory & Henry Equestrian Center E&H Equestrian Center rendering

The Intermont Equestrian Program at Emory & Henry has announced plans to build a new modern facility that will be unmatched across the region.

The new state-of-the-art equestrian center will replace the center currently located off Interstate 81 at Exit 10.

Earlier this year, the Bill Gatton Foundation in Bristol, Tennessee, donated $2 million to Emory & Henry’s Collective Connections Campaign to support the construction of the new equestrian center. The gift was made in memory of C. M. “Bill” Gatton, a longtime automobile dealer and philanthropist in the Tri-Cities and a loyal supporter of the former Virginia Intermont Equestrian Program.

In recognition of the gift, the indoor riding arena will be named the Bill Gatton Grand Arena.

Plans are to break ground on the new equestrian center as soon as fundraising is completed, with construction expected to take two to three years. The center will sit on 63 acres and is estimated to cost approximately $25 million.

The Collective Connections Campaign is designed to help elevate the Emory & Henry experience for all students, enrich the on-campus experience in support of student success, enhance the visibility of the College, and embrace the full potential of the College’s athletic and equestrian programs as nationally recognized programs.

For more information on the Collective Connections Campaign visit

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