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Fast Trot To Fame & Fortune

Dec. 4, 2006

Baylor athletes Maverick, Mariah, Lincoln, Getty and Thistle have moved into a new home and like nothing better than to eat, sleep and watch the world go by. They do have "lessons" for three hours a day, but they certainly never study. These athletes have four feet.

Meet the horses of Baylor's equestrian team, who left their tornado-ravaged stables at Coach Ellen White's Willow Spring Farm and moved into the new Willis Family Equestrian Center, named for Baylor alumni Richard and Karen Willis of Colleyville, on University Parks Drive. They're all there, from White's big stallion Caleb to the tiny mare aptly named Tinkerbell.

"I have traveled to established facilities on the East Coast and our facility is nicer than any I have seen," White said. "I think recruits will be very impressed with it."

The first phase of the Willis facility was completed in late September, in time for the Lady Bears' first home meet against TCU. Spectators crowded the bleachers in the covered arena to watch jumping and the equitation on the flat and horsemanship competition. The covered arena with its large Baylor-green roof is roughly the same size as a football field at 300-by-160 feet. Stalls for the horses line one side of the arena.

Outside is another arena, which has been used for reining competition, and paddocks for the horses. White lives on-site in a manufactured home, while she and husband, Greg, rebuild their home that was destroyed in late April by a tornado. Baylor plans to add a barn, locker rooms and offices to the Willis Center.

"We need a barn that is large enough to get the horses ready at once, where we can get them bathed and groomed and saddled," White said.

The equestrian team, only in its second season, has an exciting year ahead, one that should eclipse the inaugural season that saw the team compete at the national championship.

It boasts some new, high-caliber recruits as well as award-winning returning riders. It has hired experienced part-time assistant coach Beverly Manroe, who has been a riding instructor since 1968. She joins White and Western coach Trista Armstrong.

The team also has a challenging schedule with 13 head-to-head matches against such foes Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, national champion Auburn and former national champion Georgia, and an end-of-the-year home tournament against Big 12 rivals OSU, Kansas State and Texas A&M.

Although Baylor riders competed in the national championship last year, this year, they will host it.

"It's wonderful for our program to be asked to host in only its second year," White said. "Baylor has been so supportive of our program, and we have a great event staff. I think the organizers knew the reputation of Baylor - that we would do things right."

The championships will take place at Waco's Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo Complex in the Dodge Show Pavilion April 18-20, 2007.

The Willises gave the lead gift for the center, and Gloria and F.M. Young donated the land. Ted and Sue Getterman have also supported the project.

Sarah Willis pats Drake's nose at the dedication of the Willis Family Equestrian Center. In the background, Nicole Brown sits astride Maverick. All of the horses have moved into their new home on University Parks Drive.

With the initial phase of the Willis Family Equestrian Center completed and in use, planners are turning their attention to additional needs. These include:

• A permanent horse barn with tack rooms, medicine and feed rooms, wash areas, tack and storage rooms

• Administrative offices for the coaches, team locker rooms, and a team meeting room.

Baylor University Development is raising money to construct the planned facilities. For more information, contact Toby Barnett at the development office, (254) 710-2561. You can also find more at www.baylorbears.com. Click on Women's Sports, then the Equestrian program.

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