Tag Archives: Riding

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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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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NEHC and Family Weekend

This past weekend was such a jam-packed weekend for SBS Riding that Marilyn and I had to split up for the whole weekend just to get everything done. Marilyn took several of our riders (Tess and Kelly) to Springfield for the NEHC Junior Medal finals while I stayed at school to organize and run the little horse show we hold during family weekend to give parents the opportunity to see their kids ride. It’s Tuesday now, and Marilyn and I have been reunited. After comparing notes, we have decided that both equestrian events were a big success.

Though I was not at NEHC for the entire weekend, I did have the opportunity to go down with Marilyn to drop the horses off on Wednesday and then again on Friday to take Kelly and Tess there for a lesson. I have always loved the atmosphere of NEHC, the hush in the ring as some of the best riders and horses in the area show their stuff and the excitement and friendly atmosphere of the barns, the elaborate displays each barn places by their stalls (often featuring bowls of free candy in acknowledgment of the soon to arrive Halloween festivities 🙂 ). It’s also a great time and place to run into everybody and anybody in the local horse world who you might know. It’s horse world socializing at its best.

With hundreds of riders competing, NEHC is some of the toughest competition around. Kelly and Tess rode their best against these riders, and though they may not have won, they were still able to show what they can do, and most importantly, they were able to have fun and enjoy the NEHC atmosphere.

Back at home, the atmosphere of the Family Weekend show was a lot more relaxed than the tense show ring of NEHC (well, at least for the students and parents – there were times when I was a bit stressed getting things ready!). It was a lot of fun designing the class list, placing students in classes, and designing the flat tests which we decided to include this year. I really liked the idea of the flat tests because it gave our riders an opportunity to demonstrate just what they can do in the ring. In lessons we are always challenging them with half seats and to drop their stirrups, but they rarely get to show off just how well they can do these things in the show ring. I know I make some of my riders ride in a half seat without stirrups all the time (what can I say? I guess I like to torture them!) and I wanted to give them a chance to show just how strong their legs have become.

All the girls took advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned to do, how strong they have become, how softly they’ve learned to guide and manipulate their mounts, how skillful they’ve become at navigating a course, and how happy they are while at the barn and spending time with each another. We have some very talented girls and on Saturday we had the opportunity to see some of that talent. I was very proud of everyone.

I was also proud of myself for the show being a great success! I was thrilled that everyone seemed to have fun, that the snacks I picked out were enjoyed, that the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly, and that I managed to keep everything within our time frame of three hours!

All in all it was a great weekend for SBS Riding.

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