At first glance, a 1200 pound animal can seem unfriendly, intimidating and can smell even a tiny bit stinky. At The Thacher School, however, they become everyone’s best teachers, friends, and life partners.
The day the incoming freshmen class sets foot on campus, they are required to visit the school’s barn. They purchase helmets, cowboy and mucking boots, saddle soap, and other various equipments needed for riding. Then these tadpoles–what Thacher calls the incoming frosh because our mascot is the toad–anxiously wait in a single file line to mount their horses. Upperclassmen riders individually instruct each of them, taking them through the steps from getting on a horse to dismounting. Throughout this nerve racking ten minute session, the horse faculties are busy trying to pair each freshman with the right horse–one that will be the perfect match for the freshman’s weight, height, and personality.
|(The horse I was paired with my freshman year. His name was Ethan and his stuck out tongue was his trademark.)
All freshmen start off as “greenhorns,” a majority of them having never been on a horse before. The first trimester is packed full of big firsts; beginning with the basics like learning how to clean a stall, to mucking, and to grooming a horse, most students are loping and competing in games by the end of the trimester. The freshmen work with the horse faculty and advanced upperclassmen riders five or more days a week towards their ultimate goal, passing the Rider’s Test. This test includes walking, trotting, loping in circles, roll backs, drop to trot lead changes, emergency dismount, and many more techniques which require a lot of time and energy to master. To pass the examination, it not only requires months of practice, but also a demonstration of horsemanship, independence, and a greater degree of self-directed training. This portion of the test could be exhibited through getting your horse to walk over an obstacle it previously feared, getting your horse to stay still while standing on top of the saddle, or coming to a stop without using its reins. Passing the Rider’s Test opens up many freedoms like being able to go on trail rides with your friends and going to and from arenas without a faculty. Through this, the riders become more independent; they individually plan their own afternoons and deepening their connections with their horses.
Spring season opens up a competitive platform for the riders to boast and further improve their skills through racing. Every Saturday, they compete in various Gymkhana races from barrel to pole races. On this particular day, horses are painted and sported with orange, green, and blue bandanas to show team spirit. Riders race against the clock to score individual and team points. Individual points build up to their rankings while team points compile to determine the final winning team at the end of the year. This tradition creates a base for a competitive yet friendly atmosphere; the freshmen class is able to form new relationship with each other and with the faculty and upperclassmen.
|(Picture of my freshman class on the Gymkhana field.)
Horse riding provides students with time away from their academics, standardized testing, teachers, and family. By being held responsible for a living creature, the incoming freshmen learn to effectively manage their time, to work together, and to set short and long term goals. There definitely are days where both the rider and horse are frustrated, sore, and tired, however, by committing to this year long experience, the freshmen come out as better people. They are more willing, understanding, responsible, and confident.
The Thacher School
Kelly Oh email@example.com
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