October 24, 2016 | By Chuck Carlson | Video: Kalamazoo's WWMT-TV visits Held Equestrian Center
The new Randi C. Heathman Indoor Arena got its first test at the start of the month and, by all accounts, it was a pretty smooth ride.
“Everybody loves the facilities,” said Danielle Menteer, director of the Nancy G. Held Equestrian Center after the first Winter Indoor Jumper Schooling Show on Oct. 1-2.
The event series, scheduled for the first weekend of every month through March, was small, drawing some 30 horses from around the area. But for Menteer, it was the ideal size to test out the renovated facility, which was completed this summer at a cost of just over $1 million.
The arena was enlarged, new powerful fans were installed and a new, state-of-the-art surface was laid down (made up of special sand mixed with carpet fibers and coated with wax to cut down on dust and help with horses' footing).
And it all went well, Menteer said.
“They loved the fans, they loved the footings,” she said. “It still needs time to settle but we just have go through that initial test.”
The arena was formally unveiled at Homecoming in an October 15 ribbon-cutting ceremony. And now, the center aims to become, in time, one of the premier equestrian facilities in the country. Menteer said the arena is all but complete, save for a few non-riding extras left to add.
For the arena's namesake, Randi Heathman, ’03, the project served as an opportunity to return to Albion College after a few years of working as an equestrian consultant. She's doing what she does best, and looking to enhance the future and reputation of Albion’s equestrian program.
“I know how much dedication it takes to do this right,” Heathman said. “There had to be an understanding that the administration would support this.”
And with endowments of more than $1 million, Heathman is seeing that commitment.
It’s also been a remarkable journey from 2003 when she wrote her senior thesis focusing on the need to create an equestrian center on more than 300 acres of land owned by the College that she felt could attract more students.
She was right. With a significant financial gift from professor emeritus Nancy Held, the equestrian center was completed 18 months later and Heathman became a major part of it. From 2004-10, she served as an admissions counselor as well as the major recruiter for bringing in students interested in riding.
Then from 2010-12, Heathman was the College’s equestrian recruitment and marketing coordinator before she left to run a business that focused on finding the right college for students who were interested in equestrian.
But now, with the renovated new facility, she is back as manager of recruitment strategy based out of the Bonta Admission Center, where she is once again looking to bring students with a love of equestrian to Albion.
“For me, everything comes back to recruitment,” said Heathman, whose recruiting is exclusively of equestrian students. “Right now, we’re a flyover for students and I see us being a destination, especially for Midwest students. Right now we’re a 12-year-old program that no one knows about. And if I can get them on the campus [for a visit], we have them. We know this works. We are now deciding who we are as a program.”
While Heathman and Menteer plan to make the center one of the top equestrian sites in the region, both also say it’s important to move slowly.
“It’s a tall order,” Heathman said. “We have an opportunity right now that no other equestrian program gets. And we get a chance to reinvent ourselves. We’re telling students that if you come to Albion, you’ll have a high-level academic experience and we have a strong riding program. Hopefully, we’ll have a national riding program. We’re establishing a firm sense of who we are and doing that well.”
But it won’t be easy she said, adding with a laugh, “We’re on the prairie right now in our Conestoga wagons.”
Menteer too, is excited about the possibilities offered. But she’s also cautious. The next event is a dressage clinic Oct. 29-30 followed by a second Winter Indoor Jumper Schooling Show Nov. 5-6.
“I’m conscious of the too much too soon,” she said. “To be renting our facilities to outside organizations is going to be quite new for us. We’re still doing research on what other [equestrian] venues charge for facility rentals, but we have to be prepared to live up to what we promise. It’s almost like another whole business that our equestrian program is getting into.”
She said contracts have yet to be signed with any horse or riding shows, but there have been meetings with several organizations.