By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Like many Auburn parents, Suzanne Mott Dansby toured the campus while visiting with her daughter.
A champion dressage rider, Dansby was especially interested in Auburn's equestrian facilities.
She discovered a program that had won four national championships but lacked a facility of matching caliber.
"When I was walking around and looking at the equestrian facilities, I really felt bad that they didn't have a nicer barn and a nicer place to have their equestrian events, especially as well as they've done," Dansby said.
Through a mutual friend in the equestrian community, Dansby had previously met Auburn coach Greg Williams.
"I know that Greg has really worked hard over the many, many years that he's been there," she said. "He has such a wonderful energy about him. He's like a father to all these girls and has a great spirit and a wonderful knowledge that he's been providing for these girls over the years to help them improve their riding skills. But they need a better barn."
Dansby addressed that need by committing to give $500,000 through Tigers Unlimited for the construction of a new barn.
Rendering of new equestrian facility
"It's been there a long time and he's done what he could and now it's time to step up to the plate and provide a really great facility, not only for the horses but for the events as well," she said.
"I think it's also very important for young people to have a passion to pursue. When people are involved with horses and they're riding on a team, especially a team like Auburn, which is doing so well, they should be provided good facilities in which to operate and work."
A lifelong rider, Dansby began competing in dressage in her mid-twenties, spending as much time studying trainers as she did riding.
"Observing and watching is just as important as being on the back of the horse and applying skills and learning in that way," she said.
In 1993, she bought a horse named Devereaux, which competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics while Dansby was taking a break from the sport to raise her children.
A decade later, Dansby was again on top, an alternate for the U.S. dressage team at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.
"I was really passionate about it and I made a lot of sacrifices," she said. "It was the children and the horses, the horses and the children, there was nothing else going on in my life at that time. I was concentrating so hard on being a good parent and trying to juggle that with my horse career."
Dansby's daughter, Elizabeth, majors in interior design, while riding horses recreationally.
"I'm very happy that she goes to Auburn and has really thrived there and loves it at the school," Dansby said.
Williams believes Dansby's investment will yield significant dividends for Auburn's equestrian program.
"Having the proper barn facility will allow us to not only take care of horses at a high performance level, but will allow the team to operate in a much more safe and efficient manner," Williams said. "Suzanne is a very accomplished equestrian having competed at the highest international level.
"I am really excited to have someone of Suzanne's caliber of riding to buy into our mission at Auburn Equestrian and commit to being a large part of it. Suzanne's gift has been a catalyst for us – inspiring others to invest in our program. Suzanne is helping secure many more successful seasons at Auburn."
Danby agrees that her gift will further strengthen a program that annually competes for conference and national championships.
"When people come and see the new barn, it will create a much better impression," she said. "It will also probably draw more students to the equestrian program in the future, I have no doubt about that. It is well-deserved, and that much more of a reason to reward them - and the horses - with a beautiful new barn.
"In the end, however, as is evident, it is the amazing skill and hard work of the coaches and their students that make them the great riders that they are!"
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer