By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor

Asbury’s premier, four-legged athletes had a chance to show off during the Equine Center’s “Journey to the Manger” living nativity program on Dec. 1. The night also featured performances from some of the barn’s equestrian teams.

The classic nativity story began with the vaulting team recounting the angel Gabriel’s first visit with Mary. For those unfamiliar, vaulting is described by the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) as “a youthful, theatrical discipline in which athletes perform on the back of a cantering horse.”

“There’s some acting involved,” said sophomore Alyssa Hunefeld, one of the Christmas program’s organizers, “Gabriel vaulting on top of one of our horses, and other angels joining him.” Later in the show, members of the barn’s service mount team acted as Caesar Augustus and his guards issuing out the census decree.

The service mount group trains horses that will go on to serve in police units around the country. While these horses don’t compete in a discipline formally recognized by the FEI, they still have competitions.

At the Kentucky Horse Park’s colloquium, service mounts from all over the county are judged on how well l they are able to respond to obstacles that mirror their training.

“Police horses have to be bombproof, they have to be able to move crowds, so they have to be able to push into pressure,” Hunefeld said. “A horse’s natural instinct is to move away from pressure, so you have to teach them to push against people and objects.”

Among the equine program’s other competitive teams are the hunter and jumper club. While both disciplines are used to moving through a course and leaping over obstacles, the styles of the two are very different. While the hunters are judged more on technique and precision of movement as they navigate the course, the jumper’s score is determined by their pure speed.

“Hunter and jumper last year did two shows in Frankfort…we actually did really well,” Hunefeld said. It’s not often that Asbury equestrian teams get a chance to compete. The show in Frankfort was the Hunter/Jumper club’s first competitive outing in two years. But Hunefeld was hopeful, adding that the team was “working on finding more competition.”

But while the lack of chances for competition would bring some people down, Hunefeld believes that the teams at the barn are serving a bigger purpose. “We’re trying to incorporate a ministry with our teams,” she said. “We can demonstrate Christ through our horses and ourselves…that’s kind of our slogan: God, people, horses, in that order.”