Taking a Leap Outside of the Classroom

ATLANTA — While her classmates hunkered down to study for finals, 2011 Georgia State University College of Law graduate Sam Gunnison was preparing for a test of a different sort.

Gunnison, 24, was on her way to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Nationals, held May 6-8 in Lexington, Ky. Not only did she bring home ribbons in both of her events – equitation on the flat and over fences – she also charted her first gold-medal ride at the national level.

Raised in Roswell, Ga., Gunnison credits Georgia State Law with allowing her to follow her passion for horseback riding while pursuing a career in the legal world. “I’ve been very lucky to live in the city near all the jobs and close to school, but still 20 minutes away have 60 acres and a horse,” Gunnison said. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

Other students might say the same thing of Gunnison’s ability to juggle competition at such a high level with the rigors of law school. Learning to do so has involved some trial and error over the years, but it has paid off.

“School just always has to come first,” Gunnison said, though she admits she’s not one who can stay buried in her books for 12 hours a day. “But I also think having something else to do for fun can make the time you put in at school more worthwhile. It’s all about balance.”

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Gunnison started riding horses when she was 5 years old and entered her first show at age 7. She continued to ride into her teen years and then joined the equestrian club team when she enrolled at the University of Georgia, where she qualified for IHSA Nationals for the first time as a sophomore. This year’s competition marked her third Nationals overall, and her second appearance representing UGA as an individual in the alumni division. She placed 10th in the over fences class and earned the top prize in the flat class.

As a student in GSU’s College of Law, Gunnison was a member of the Bleckley Inn of Court and vice president of the college’s moot court team. She also coached and competed for moot court, where she discovered that her work in the show ring has laid a solid foundation for presenting in the courtroom.

“A lot of riding is visualization: seeing yourself do well and planning out a course of action and then not being scared when you go to do it,” Gunnison said. “Keeping a game plan and being confident in it did enter in to my moot court competitions… [that] definitely came from my riding.”

Now, at the conclusion of her GSU Law career, the academic and extracurricular successes Gunnison envisioned for herself have come to fruition: juris doctor degree obtained, national equestrian trophy won. She has accepted a position with local firm Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh, LLP, where she’ll be working in civil litigation starting in the fall.

Despite the fact that she’ll be saddled with billable hour requirements once she starts practicing, Gunnison hopes to continue taking part in IHSA events – the alumni division is open to anyone who participated as an undergraduate regardless of age or academic standing.

“It’s definitely dependent on my work schedule, but the plan is to keep going and see what happens next year,” Gunnison said. “At the same time, [winning at nationals] would be a perfect thing to end on – but I love it too much to stop now.”


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