Inside SCAD Equestrian

If ever a city embraced the notion of surprise and delight, it’s Savannah.

Buskers belt out Johnny Mercer lyrics at the base of historic statuary, contemporary art enthusiasts flow into a former antebellum railroad depot (now the award-winning SCAD Museum of Art), trolley tour guides narrate city stories on loudspeakers under the quiet sprawl of centuries-old live oaks. Old meets new, quirky comingles with curtsy, stoic blends into vibrant. Savannah’s a city of charming dichotomies, and one of its most notable attractions lies just minutes from the rollicking riverfront, where visitors can witness the unmatched grace of one of humankind’s most treasured traditions: equitation.

On 180 acres of verdant paddocks and pasturelands nestled amid loblolly pines, you’ll find the Ronald C. Waranch Equestrian Center. Like all SCAD learning environments where preeminent education occurs, the Waranch Center is an elegant, state-of-the-art complex (it’s even been dubbed a “masterpiece”). Home to the nation’s only equestrian studies program at an art and design university, two fully equipped barns feature 84 stalls and often as many horses, as well as a veterinary clinic, tack room, conference room, wash stalls, laundry facilities, offices, and, of course, a trophy room. 

SCAD hosts collegiate riders from around the country to compete in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and American National Riding Commission events, many of which are free and open to the public. Odds are, guests will see the home team win. This spring, the ANRC held its National Intercollegiate Equitation Championship at the Waranch Center, where SCAD clenched novice and national team championships, soaring past Sweet Briar College and Georgia Southern University among others. (A few short weeks later, SCAD brought home its third consecutive IHSA title, triumphing over Stanford University, University of Southern California, and Michigan State University.) Winners of more national championships over the past ten years than any other team in the country, SCAD’s equestrian team is a modern sports dynasty.

SCAD riders share their winning spirit throughout the Lowcountry community, mentoring local high school students in the rigors of collegiate equestrian competition, and helping lead outreach programs like Heroes on Horseback. Likewise, the Waranch Center welcomes visitors to tour the grounds, learn about equine competition, and connect with coaches, staff, and our elite equestrians themselves — students mastering a range of creative disciplines, including architecture, graphic design, film and television, fashion, and preservation design. 

Whether pursuing a degree in equestrian studies — coursework in anatomy, facility design, horse training, and competition design — or one of SCAD’s more than 43 other major programs, our champion riders work hard to build their extensive knowledge and supreme athletic performance for professional success. Just look to recent alumni who echo the university’s preeminence in all things equestrian: Molly McDougall, an ambassador coordinator for JustWorld International; equine photographer Kate Morrison; equestrian artist Julie Ferris; and horse trainer Jordan Gilchrist. Each stands as testament to SCAD’s 98% employment rate. After all, SCAD is the university for creative careers. 

Just outside Savannah, the Waranch Center presents an enchanting vision of Lowcountry living. Here, visitors can witness the bonds between lithe riders and their noble friends. As the sun rises over marsh grasses and bottlebrush-lined pathways, and horses stir in readiness for their daily runs under the steady, knowing hands of SCAD riders, the world’s brightest future designers master a storied sport and the art of the horse.

Paula Wallace is the president and founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which offers over 43 majors and minors in more than 75 disciplines, with locations in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France.

To arrange a tour of the equestrian center or find out more information about upcoming events, please call (843) 784-9902. To read more about the greatest places to eat, stay, play and shop in the South, subscribe now or pick up the June/July issue of South magazine.