The author c. 2000 with William Woods school horse, Dragon.
There are a lot of reasons I’m glad that I’m not 19 years old anymore. But occasionally I think back to my time as an equestrian science major at William Woods University and feel wistful. You can’t go back again, but you can turn your rose-tinted memories into a fun listicle, so let’s get started, shall we?
- Optimism About the Future. Let’s be honest: You have to be pretty privileged to chase your equestrian dreams in the form of a four-year degree, and if I had come from a different background or had been making my college decision in the post-2008 recession era, I might have gone with a major focused toward a more solid career path. But back in my college days, I never questioned that I was headed toward a happy, horse-filled future (and I was right, although not exactly how I envisioned it at the time!)
- More Riding Instruction. As a horse owner, I typically ride multiple times per week, but I’ve never been able to swing the time and financial burden of more than one lesson per week (and sometimes not even that.) In college, twice weekly lessons were part of the curriculum. Four if you enrolled in two riding classes simultaneously. Riding outside of a structured lesson is good, but the extra coaching really helps reinforce whatever you’re working on and makes it easier to progress. My riding improved more in college than any other time in my life.
- Friday Free Riding. And speaking of riding outside of lessons…at my school, there were no lessons on Fridays, so you could sign up to “free ride” your favorite horse. There were usually some horses that could be ridden on the weekends, too. I can’t think of any other situation where you could just opt to ride one of a few dozen horses on the weekend. Well, unless you’re very wealthy and own a few dozen horses. Or if you’re a trainer, and then it’s not so much that you can opt to ride but that you’d better if you want to pay your rent this month.
- Crazy Horse Kids. There’s that whole thing about how “every school has that one weird horse kid.” When you’re in an equine college program, all those weirdos have been funneled in to one place. You are among your people. Your fellow students don’t roll their eyes and walk away when you start talking about your favorite lesson horse; they join in enthusiastically with their own stories. (Note: This only works when talking to other equine students. The accounting majors will still roll their eyes and walk away.)
All Those Horses. There’s no better way to learn about horses than hands-on experience, and we had an endless supply of that.
All-time greatest school horse ever, Sirinko. Everyone who rode hunt seat during this horse’s tenure has a Sirinko story they’ll happily share.
- Tack Cleaning Parties. There is a certain charm to sitting at home with just your current Netflix obsession and a pile of tack and boots to clean and polish. But in college, the evening before an on-campus horse show almost always became an impromptu tack cleaning party. We’d sit in the hallways of our dorm passing around the saddle soap and talking about whatever came up. You just don’t get that kind of camaraderie from Netflix.
- Exposure to New Ideas. I learned tons from my professors and, of course, the horses, but I also learned a lot from other students. Since everyone came from different barns in different regions of the country, and because we had several different equestrian disciplines represented, there were a lot of different perspectives on riding and horsekeeping. To this day I use ideas I learned from other students at the barn.
- The Dress Code. At any university, you tend to have the trendy fashionistas as well as the wear-your-PJs-to-class set. At a school with a big riding program, you also get those who wear boots and breeches or jodhpurs all day. I imagine for the first few weeks of the year, the non-equestrian students might have thought it was weird to see people dressed to ride—including spurs and with a crop sticking out of their backpacks—but eventually it just becomes normal to see riding boots in the chem lab.
- The Assistant Professors. It was not uncommon to have a barn cat curl up on your lap while you were listening to a lecture in the equestrian science classroom. Several of the professors had dogs that followed them everywhere and “helped” teach classes. I think I would have done better in my gen ed classes if the professors had brought their pets. Life is just better with animals around.
Back to The Near Side
Leslie Potter is Managing Editor of HorseChannel.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieInLex.