It is every young horse lover’s dream to attend a riding camp where they get to ride all day, learn from top industry professionals, prove themselves in the show ring, and look fabulous doing it.
Unfortunately for most of us, such a program doesn’t exist or is out of our reach. And the programs that purport to provide such a paradise are often exaggerating and/or outrageously expensive.
To fill this void in our lives, many of us resort to searching for the perfect college equestrian program—you know, the one that will allow us to trade 20 years of debt for a few solid years in the barn. We see ads in our favorite horsey magazines, websites, and shows that portray a utopia of equine activities, guaranteed to make you a shining star in the show ring and the training pen.
Some of us may have ignored them in favor of more “normal” options, like chemistry or accounting. But others, such as myself, couldn’t see ourselves anywhere else.
We began doggedly pursuing the colleges that offered such programs, usually culminating in a day-long visit where we “oohed” and “awed” our way through the immaculate barns aisles filled with Warmbloods, and Thoroughbreds, and some foreign breed names we couldn’t even pronounce (but sounded very expensive), while our parents counted not arenas but dollar signs.
And at the end of our tour(s), we had our hearts set on the perfect program that would rocket us into equine-professional stardom. We thought we had it all figured out.
We were dead wrong.
Once you arrive for your first class at the barn, you will be in for a rude awakening. Those fancy horses you were squealing over months before? They’re off limits to you. The stall fronts made of honey-colored wood so shiny you could see your face in it? It will be your elbow-grease and cleaning products that keep them that way. The multitude of grass and dirt turnouts? Frequently filled for the whole day or else closed, forcing you to hand-walk or graze your horse nearly every day.
There are no employees to clean your assigned stalls, no groom to tack up your horse for you before your ride time, and no one to listen to you whine about how your work at the barn is making you late to your classes on the main campus.
You will be in the barn every day, including weekends, to care for a horse you do not own. You will clean every surface in the barn visible or not, and you will pay an extra three grand in tuition for the privilege to do it. You will do an hour’s worth of work in a panicked 15 minutes because if you don’t you will be late for your ride time and the instructor will ask you to leave (again).
You will get blisters in places you didn’t even know you had, muscle soreness that will remind you eerily of your adolescent growing pains, and a constant, gnawing anxiety that will have you triple-checking your riding position every time you pass a reflective window. Nothing will be easy.
But that’s the whole point.
A college equestrian program’s purpose is not to churn out spoiled, flimsy, one-dimensional riders who are great in the show pen but useless in the stall. They will make you work, and they will make you love it. Or, you’ll drop out. Either way, everyone gets what they paid for (in sweat, blood, and frequently, tears).
I would not recommend this path to everyone, because it simply isn’t meant for everyone. But for those who are truly passionate about horses, those who cannot imagine their lives without their four-legged partners, a college equestrian program could indeed be a paradise.
You will learn everything—from proper tack fit and arena etiquette, to good bandaging practices and knowing which wheelbarrow will hold the most shavings while mucking stalls. Your riding instructors will truly care about your progress and do everything in their power to help. The rest is up to you. You get what you give.
So despite all the difficulties, it will be worth it. And yes, you will be spending anywhere from four to eight hours every day at the barn working your tail off. But hey, isn’t that what we were all hoping for anyway?
About the Author
Nicole Bosserman grew up riding Western on grumpy Quarter Horses on her grandparent’s farm before transitioning to English riding when she began attending university. The transition from a family farm to a professional facility is what has become the basis of much of her written work.