Polk County High student Emma Gurley rides in the 2019 Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show (photo courtesy Emma Gurley)

Polk County’s Gurley to join Emory & Henry equestrian team

The equestrian teams at Emory & Henry College boast an impressive tradition, having accumulated 21 national championships in the past 20 years.

Polk County senior Emma Gurley will soon be part of the effort to continue that run of excellence.

Gurley has committed to join the E&H equestrian team, becoming one of the first – if not the first – Polk County High seniors to commit to sign with a college equestrian program.

Officially the Intermont Equestrian at Emory & Henry, the E&H program offers riders a chance to compete in hunters, jumpers, equitation and dressage. The Wasps compete in various tournaments offered by the Intercollegiate Dressage Assoication and the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association.

“It’s really cool,” Gurley said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to be on an equestrian team in college. I’m very happy I got accepted into the college and I get to be part of the equestrian program.”

Gurley began riding horses around the age of 10 after receiving a pony for Christmas. What began at 4-H shows in McDowell County has now turned into a passion that has taken Gurley to competitions throughout the Southeast, including this fall’s Hamel Foundation NHS 3’3″ Eq Championship at the National Horse Show in Lexington, Ky. Gurley qualified for the final round at that national event.

With a career in horses in mind, Gurley had already been heavily considering Emory & Henry for its equestrian academic offerings. She also gave the University of Kentucky a visit.

“I’ve wanted to go to Emory & Henry since my freshman year in high school,” Gurley said. “I did consider University of Kentucky just because it’s in the middle of horse country.

“I visited, but it’s just so big there. Emory & Henry’s equestrian program is also more extensive than what they have.”

As a member of the Wasps, Gurley will face a different approach to competition, especially when the team goes on the road.

“It’s quite different competing for a college program,” she said. “When the team travels, you have to ride the horses the other colleges provide. If we’re at home for a competition, then the horses in our barn, the other teams will ride those.

“There’s no practice. You just get on the horse and go ride in the show. It’s the really difficult part of that.”

Gurley received both an equestrian scholarship and a merit scholarship, enough to offset the tuition portion of her expenses. She plans to do a work study on campus that will allow her to take her beloved horse, Tino, with her to the E&H campus, located in the southwest corner of Virginia.

“I’m very excited about that,” she said.

Gurley’s goal is to enter an equestrian major once on campus.

“I want to major in equestrian business management or equestrian studies,” she said. “I want to learn about raising horses and breeding and learn about the anatomy of horses and all that goes with that, including how to take care of them.

“I hope to run a buying and selling business one day. I do want to be a professional rider. That’s the main goal before I will look to establish a barn.”

Gurley’s busy competition schedule includes several events in Florida over the next few weeks. She also is looking at again trying to qualify for national competition.