Category Archives: Equestrian Program

Posts from our riding instructors about the Stoneleigh-Burnham School equestrian program.

The Center of It All

It’s all about the beanbags. The nine students in my Humanities 7 class had been adamant that we would able to fit the 22-27 relatives they were expecting for Family Weekend into our relatively small classroom, and when I demurred, they insisted that wherever we go, their beloved beanbag chairs should follow “because our parents should see what our class really looks like.” So it was that I greeted Barbara, who was responsible this morning both for cleaning my regular classroom and for cleaning the Meeting Room where we would be moving for the day, at a bright and early 6:15 A.M. I had my temporary classroom set up, and chairs set out for visitors in the Jesser 3 classrooms, by 7:00, and zipped to the dining room to fill my travel mug with decaf (a special treat for a special day) and soy milk.

Students, parents, and other visiting family members began filtering in by 7:45, cries of, “You brought the beanbags!” filling the air accompanied by knowing parental smiles. We began class by continuing a previous lesson on lying, the better to inaugurate our newest student-designed unit developed from the seed question “Does the media lie?” around the eventual theme question,”How does the media alter perspectives of the truth to change what you think and feel?” Students did a think-pair-share activity around different kinds of lies, thinking on their own, in groups of two or three, and then in the full class about their thoughts and reactions. They eventually combined to write their own definition of lying, “Lying is an untruth, possibly ongoing, being told that brings a consequence that may or may not be desired, yet is always bad.” That will serve as a working definition as we go through the unit, both with group activities on topics like news coverage of the elections and photoshopping of models, and with individual research on personally-chosen questions.

Housemeeting was impressive, all the more so because it wasn’t really any different from how it would normally be. Certainly a highlight, however, was the introduction of the brand new Middle School Interscholastic Equestrian Team, complete with a visit from the school mascot Athena the Owl, with Academic Dean Alex Bogel’s booming voice announcing each student as she strode down the center aisle waving her hand much as Queen Elizabeth II does.

Sometimes, a class can get disturbingly quiet on Family Weekend, but if anything, the presence of parents and siblings brought out the best in my French II class as they worked to understand the ins and outs of the just-introduced tense, the passé composé. They all raised their hands and tested out their new knowledge, never hesitated to ask questions, and achieved a much deeper understanding of the tense in our short 20-minute class.

I was about the third person to go through the lunch line, the better to scoot to the gym and prepare for the performing arts show. I tuned up the girls’ bass and guitars, checked the sound for the keyboards, played a quick fill on the drums just for the fun of it, and did mic checks. All seemed ready, and after an eternity of waiting, the rock bands took the stage. Judging from the tone of respect in the congratulations I received after the show, the bands succeeded in connecting with their audience and imparting a spirit of fun. Certainly Heather’s decision to grab her mic and abandon the stage, striding around the gym as she belted out the vocals to “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” helped set the tone, and the explosion of applause complete with shouts and whooping showed how much the audience loved it. That noted, all three groups got sincere and heartfelt, and well-deserved, compliments.

Immediately following the show, we had a Middle School parents’ meeting to discuss the institution of what we expect will be a new tradition, the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., go over the developmental stages and needs of young adolescent girls and how our program is explicitly designed around research to meet those needs, and determine parental goals for the year. Partway through, I asked for questions, thoughts, and concerns, and wasn’t quite sure what to think when a long silence ensued. Years of practice leaving space for my students to talk caused me to wait patiently, and then one mother raised her hand and commented, “I’m overwhelmed, and I just feel so lucky that my daughter is here with all you are doing for her, the knowledge and passion you bring to your work.” A number of other parents nodded and murmured their agreement. The parents (and a few grandparents – as I commented, “If you care enough about the kids to attend this meeting, you get to have a say here.”) then came up with a solid list of goals for the year, and used a system of placing stickers to set priorities.

My advisees did a wonderful job with their student-led conferences, speaking about their work thus far with touching honesty, pride, and a willingness to identify areas where they need to grow and develop genuinely practical plans to bring about that growth. Several parents commented on how much they preferred the format, as students became agents of their own destiny, not the passive subjects of adult discussions and judgments.

Saturday afternoon, as my part in the weekend was winding down (being neither a houseparent nor an on-duty chaperone), I found myself standing at the soccer game with Academic Dean Alex Bogel. I filled him in on my experiences of the weekend, and he jumped in to let me know how delighted he was to have been asked the question of how our institution of the IB program has affected the middle school and other younger grades. Pointing to the hexagon that symbolizes the IB program, he noted the student at the center of it all. “And that,” he said, “is why we didn’t have to change a thing about the rest of our program.”

Student voice. Her best self. This is the mission of the school, and when you stay aware of and true to it, amazing things can happen. You couldn’t have asked for a better Family Weekend. I wrote the Middle School faculty earlier today, “As Middle School Dean, in particular at the Friday Parents’ Meeting, I get the heartwarming experience on Family Weekend of watching parents come in curious about why their kids are so happy here, and becoming increasingly, almost overwhelmingly for some, touched to see all we do and all that goes into it. So thank you all for making that happen, both over the last five weeks and then in particular the last two days. It’s a ton of work, I know, and it brings amazing results.” So it is, and so it does.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Equestrian Program, In the Classroom, International Baccalaureate, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Horses we Love

The following was originally published in the Spring 2007 Bulletin. At the time, Samantha Pleasant ’02 was  Associate Director of Admissions and a riding instructor here at SBS. Her words still reflect the feelings of so many students and alumnae that we wanted to share them here with you. We hope that you enjoy reading Sam’s account of her own relationship with horses and what she observed in our students during her time here.

I was never fortunate enough to have had my own pony as a child, although I certainly spent enough time wishing for one. But every day, rain or shine, I had a barn of 60 horses ready to love at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Even before I was a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl, before I was a Bonnie Castle Camper…I was a girl truly in love with the sight of a horse. I spent every waking minute that I was not at school at the barn rolling wraps, grooming horses, hand-walking, doing turnouts and of course, riding. I had a favorite horse for every hour of every day: Stoneleigh-Burnham School gave me a thousand opportunities to call a horse my own.

As I grew older, I learned that horses recognized footsteps and I could count on my horse to be standing in the closest corner of her stall, ears perked and her soft whiskered muzzle pressed against the iron bars. Today it’s still the best moment of my day. Each afternoon I take the few minutes I have before I begin teaching to press my face into her chestnut side and let her wrap her neck around me as I lean into her steady shoulder. During summer evenings, I’ll walk to the barn after dinner – let the slow lazy sun sink behind the trees and enjoy the quiet. She’ll have settled for the evening, finished her hay while her eyes start to droop and she’ll wait for me. I can spend hours grooming her, loose her from her stall without seeing another person or hearing any other footsteps beside our own. She’s content to stand as long as I hold a soft brush to flick the hairs from her coat and and a carrot to thank her. Her dark chocolate eyes follow my movements, as she carefully watches me. She knows that I can be trusted, that I am here to give care, worry over cuts and nicks, and satisfy her needs. I know in that moment what connection is, I can understand the beauty of horse and rider. Secrets spoken aloud lose their power; I keep this time with her private.

Not every day is like this, sometimes time and real life can interfere with want and I find myself barely stopping by on my way to an appointment, or traveling will leave me without checking on her for days at a time. But the consistency of knowing that your horse will be waiting when you return, just as ready, just as eager, is testament to the quiet acceptance horses can grant so easily.

Horses love unconditionally and pass no judgement, and that quiet whoof of breath into your hand can make the minutes and the hours melt away. Your physical limitations disappear in a half pass or a soaring jumper course and there is nothing but appreciation for the body beneath you that has given you wings. I’ve learned compassion and patience from my horses over the years and even more from watching the strength they can inspire in our students. Girls spend their adolescent years searching for voice, purpose, connection and an individual sense of accomplishment.

Stoneleigh-Burnham is a place for girls to foster connections with these uniquely dignified animals. We are able to continue these traditions year to year because of compassionate people who understand the importance of the relationships between girls and horses. These people are our Director of Riding Mina Cooper, our alumnae and the patrons of the SBS Riding Program, and they continue to give of their time and their hearts to support a program that gives young girls purpose.

Our school is a magical place where adults can help students combine a love of learning and a passion for horses. As one student remarked on her senior page, “I wish leaving Stoneleigh was as easy as leaving the ground. Thank you…”

-Samantha Pleasant, Class of 2002

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Filed under Alumnae, Equestrian Program, School Happenings, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

An Update from the Barn

Things have been quite busy the last few months. On top of hosting the normal array of horse shows at home, we also held a big Wall of Fame Induction ceremony in February and hosted the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Zone 1 Region 3 Regional Finals in March.

The Wall of Fame ceremony was a very special occasion for us. Five SBS equestrian alums (Joannah Glass ‘59, Abby Fuller ‘77, Libby Cowperthwaite Schmittdiel ‘84, Kimberly Cartier Dome ‘94, and our own Mina Payne Williams ‘78) were inducted to the Wall of Fame. To celebrate the event we organized a full day of activities around both the Equestrian Center and the School. The morning started out with a clinic for the girls held by Kim Cartier Dome which focused on improving riders’ eye and ride to the jumps. Following this clinic there was an informal Q&A session with the inductees that was open to all students, faculty and any others who wished to meet them. Inductees were formally honored at an elegant dinner that evening, where they, their guests, parents and faculty enjoyed the company of one another. From someone so new to SBS, it was gratifying to see how the School comes together to honor the accomplishments of alumnae riders.

Hosting IEA Regionals was another event that the SBS riding community put together, and like the Wall of Fame, it was another successful day! Almost a hundred high school and middle school riders attended the event to compete for their chance to move onto Zones. Only the top two riders in each class and the top two out of five competing teams qualified to move on from Regionals. Our girls worked hard to help host the show, and they rode fabulously. We placed a respectable third, which was unfortunately not enough to place SBS onto Zones. However, one of our riders, Hannah, was able to qualify for Zones as an individual rider where she placed 10th in Intermediate Individual Fences.  We are extremely proud of our riders – how they rode and came together as a team this past season.

Among the many amazing things that have happened during the last several months there is one experience in particular that I’d like to mention: During the Q&A session at the Wall of Fame ceremony, Mina discussed how her role in the SBS equestrian community had changed over the years. She described how the program and her involvement in the horse industry in general had shifted from being about the horses and her own personal riding to the girls she teaches. She explained that the bond she creates with the girls as an instructor and seeing her students’ progression and growth is more important than her bond with the horse itself. While horses are and will always be important to her, it’s the girls and teaching that provide her with the most pride and joy. As Mina discussed her feelings I realized that I feel the same shift happening for me. While I love horses and riding, being an instructor is becoming less and less about the horse and more about the girls. The joy of teaching and watching my students learn is a very unique and special thing.

~Stef, Stoneleigh-Burnham School Riding Instructor

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A Busy Start to the New Year!

The atmosphere at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School Equestrian Center has been lively during the last few weeks. On January 15th we held a Jumper show which was well attended despite the subzero temperatures outside. The SBS girls did particularly well and three girls took first place! Full results from the day can be found on our website.

Only a week later we transitioned from fast and furious jumping to elegant flat work by hosting a Dressage schooling show on January 22nd. Most of our riders prefer the excitement of jumping, but a few of our girls strutted their stuff in the dressage ring and competed against a great rider turn-out from surrounding barns. Many of the girls finished the day with top scores in their classes, proving that our riders shine both over fences and on the flat.

We will be ending the month of January with a hectic schedule. On Saturday, January 29th our IEA team will compete in their last regular season horse show for the year at Wildaire in Southbridge, MA. We wish them lots of luck, but I’m certain that they will finish the season strong!

All the best from the barn,


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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It’s my first December at SBS – and wow – we certainly get into the holiday spirit here! With gingerbread houses, secret snowflake gift exchanging, and hilarious faculty skits, SBS dives right into the holiday celebration and the barn is no different.

This past Wednesday we held a “Ho-ho-holiday” Gymkhana for the girls (I came up with the Ho-ho-ho part). Mina dressed up as none other than jolly ol’ St. Nick, leading Moon (our little white pony) around, loaded with saddle bags of Christmas presents for all the good little girls and boys. Marilyn and I donned elf hats and turned Sweetie and Treasure into Christmas reindeer to become Santa’s little helpers. For several hours the barn was filled with laughter and cheers as the girls played individual and team games on horseback (such as musical stalls, sit a buck, and relay races). It was lots of fun for all involved, whether riding or simply watching!

On Saturday, the Community Riding program held their own little holiday party. First they played some gymkhana games followed by a potluck party to which everyone was invited. It was a far less rambunctious gathering than our gymkhana on Wednesday, but it was a great party nonetheless and it was fun to meet and talk to more community riders than I normally have the opportunity to see.

In my last post I mentioned our upcoming IEA show and our home hunter/jumper show – I am sure you would love to know the results! IEA was a great success and the girls were the reserve champion team of the day! Our hunter/jumper show was a lot smaller than the last show, but many of our girls took to the show ring to demonstrate their skill and talent. In most classes, a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl placed in first or second (or even both).  We are very proud of our riders – they always represent our school so well by performing at the highest level and by demonstrating superb sportsmanship and horsemanship!

Many wishes for very happy holidays over the next few weeks!



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New Trimester…New Adventures

This week marks the start of a brand new trimester which will usher in a whole new atmosphere around the barn. While there will be many returning students, we are excited to welcome many new students as well. The lesson schedules will change and there will be new group dynamics formed with these new combinations of riders. I’m eager to see returning riders continue to progress and to meet all our new riders! I can’t say I’m looking forward to the coming cold of WINTER, but I’m thrilled so many riders are willing to brave the chilly temperatures this winter to come down to the barn (over 40 including both full time and part time riders!).

Before I embark upon this new trimester I want to take one last look at this past trimester. Even though I have only been at Stoneleigh-Burnham for four months, it feels like I have been here forever (and I mean that in a good way!). I have settled in so completely over the last few months and I love my life at SBS. The kids and horses are great to work with, the lessons a joy to teach, and even though there can be stressful times (when we are preparing to host a horse show for example) now four months after my first day at SBS, I still think daily, “I love my job!”

There are so many hard working, dedicated riders who come down to the barn every day, and so many kids who come even when they aren’t riding in order to support their friends and help out. It has been so great to watch these girls learn and progress over the last few months. I have become incredibly aware of the fact that teaching at SBS is more than simply “teaching.” SBS is a way of life and a little world in and of itself. I spend so much time around our student-athletes, both when they are on and off the horse, that they have become a huge part of my life. Whether I’m teaching a lesson, eating with them in the cafeteria, going to their haunted houses or school plays, they always bring a smile to my face. It’s like my family has ballooned and each day I am thrilled to be a part of my new, larger SBS family.

Speaking of our hard working and dedicated riders — they wrapped up the fall trimester with outstanding success. In my last post I mentioned our upcoming shows (both our home Hunter/Jumper show as well as our IEA show at Folly) and they turned out to be huge successes! At our home show, unlike the Fall Horse Trials, many of our girls competed (both on our horses and on their own) and they were extremely successful. In almost every class a SBS girl took first or second place and there were many who walked away that day with division championships or reserve championships. Folly Farm was no different — the IEA team was at the top of their game and made a phenomenal showing. The team brought home many blue ribbons, including the most important one: the blue for being the top team that day.

With more shows coming (an IEA show on December 4th and another SBS hosted Hunter/Jumper show on December 11th), I am excited to see the talented SBS girls continue to show their stuff.



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IEA, IEA, and more IEA!

It’s a very busy time of year for the IEA team, which not only has shows on three consecutive weekends, but hosted one of those shows this past Saturday.
On Saturday, October 30 the team traveled to Biscuit Hill Farm in Shelburne, Mass. for Hopkins Academy’s show. The team made a strong showing in all events, but key wins from Kelly in Open Flat and Leira in Beginner Flat allowed the team to cinch a second place victory. On the following Saturday, November 6, the team hosted their IEA show right here at SBS. Four other teams from Mount Holyoke, Hopkins Academy, King Oaks Farm, and Friendship Fields Farm travelled to our campus for the competition.
The show ran very smoothly despite the fact that home shows always seem tougher than away shows for many reasons. In the IEA, riders compete on strange horses provided by the hosting team. This means that the host team has the added stress of preparing and caring for all the horses needed for the day, as well as their normal focus on the classes in which they will be competing. Besides the horses, the team hosting is also responsible for running every aspect of the horse show, from in gate to jump crew to food. SBS’s IEA team is very fortunate to have all the full time riders who volunteer so much time to help run the show and care for the horses.
Another stress of hosting a show is the added pressure in regards to horse draw. At a rider’s home show she knows and has ridden the horses provided. This can benefit the rider because she is able to ride a horse that she will be at least somewhat familiar with, but at the same time it can add significant pressure. From my years riding in IHSA I know the types of worries that can plague a rider: “I’m riding my team’s own horses; I have no excuse not to ride well. Oh no! What if I do have a bad ride or miss a distance? I’m on my team’s own horses! There’s no reason for that! I’ll really let my team down. I’ll look foolish, etc. etc. etc.” When you have the opportunity to ride familiar horses at a show, there’s the benefit that you know them, but the challenge that sometimes you worry more about your performance with those horses than riding a strange horse at another team’s show.
Despite the inherent difficulties in hosting an IEA show, the team gave an amazing performance this past Saturday. Our riders dominated in the ring and most finished within the top three of their class. Tess in her Open Fences, Callan in her Open Flat, and Alissa in her Novice Flat all won blue ribbons and overall the team truly performed very well. SBS not only won the show, but they did so with a margin of 14 points, cinching their place to compete in regionals later this season!
And now, this coming Sunday, November 14, we go straight into our fourth show of the season, which is hosted by Folly Farm in Simsbury, Conn. We are heading into the show with excellent momentum and I know that the girls will continue work their hardest and put in great performances.
Also this weekend, SBS will be holding a Hunter/Jumper show on Saturday. Many of our girls will be competing at this show, as well as many other riders from the local area and I look forward to seeing both new and familiar faces.

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