Nonetheless Ray, a junior high school student from Cookeville, Tenn., is serious about riding in college, so meeting with the program’s instructors (both human and equine) and current students, was a welcome opportunity. A demonstration led by instructor Glenn Moody on using combinations and gymnastics in schooling was informative too, Ray said, and not just for the instruction.
“It definitely told me they know what they’re doing. There’s teaching going on here, not just riding offers,” Ray said, meaning the program is substantive and not just a place to board your horse.
Ray, who doesn’t own a horse and hasn’t been able to ride as much as she’d like since middle school, feels she has some catching up to do. “I want to go to this type of riding program because I want to advance,” she said.
Instructor Jason Berry and several Sweet Briar students rode in the clinic, with Moody explaining the exercises. “I wanted to applaud through the whole thing,” said Ray’s mother, Angie Courtney, one of 103 prospective students and parents who attended the riding open house.
The first-time event was a joint effort between the admissions office and riding program with the cooperation of many offices, including faculty who represented their academic departments. It was timed to coincide with the Winter Horse Show on Saturday so participants who chose to stay overnight could see the annual open competition.
The organizers anticipated interest in the open house would be high and it was, with students from Georgia to Oregon attending, said director of admissions Gretchen Tucker. “For a first-time event, I’m impressed with the geographic representation,” she said.
Ray and Courtney have visited several college stables and appreciated what they saw during a tour of the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center — not least the quality of the school horses. They found the barn nicer and more organized than most, but not “uppity,” Ray volunteered. Pressed for an explanation she said some stables hand you the reins and all you have to do is ride. She likes that students are required to learn and be responsible for equine care, grooming and tack.
Tara Kennedy of Glen Allen, Va., described the riding demonstration as an excellent clinic on schooling — for free. Wherever she attends college, she’s hoping for a high level of riding instruction without pressure-cooker competitiveness.
Sweet Briar’s program should fit. It puts equal emphasis on recreational riding, hunters and jumpers, and a range of competitive teams for riders of all skill levels and interests, says incoming director Mimi Wroten.
But Kennedy and her mother, Karen, really came to learn about the College’s academics and to get feel for the campus and community. Tara wanted to know more about Sweet Briar’s engineering program, so lunch with faculty members was as revealing as the rest of the visit.
“I’m definitely more comfortable with the program now,” Tara said. “They seem like people that I’d really like to learn from.”
Amanda Buckley and her daughter, Courtney Dulac, of Goshen, Conn., were struck by a number of things, chief among them the genuine enthusiasm for the school expressed by everyone from the admissions staff to their student tour guides. Even the horses exuded contentment.
Some of Dulac’s high school classmates were there, too, and they were impressed by the horses, Buckley explained. “They could tell, these horses are happy, their ears are forward, they want to work,” she said.
All together, it seemed good to Dulac who at one point leaned toward her mother and said, “I can see myself here.”