Midterms at the barn

How Equine students prepare for midterms 

By: Larissa Holmes

It’s midterm season. Through studying for exams, turning in projects, and having the bad luck of technical difficulty, stress abounds for every student. But there is an added level of challenge when a student must also prepare an unpredictable animal and get it to perform when they need. For students at the English equestrian farm, there is more to midterms than just studying.

Like any other class, equine students have a written, technical exam that tests their knowledge on material covered in the classroom setting. In addition, students are also tested with the horse they have been riding since the start of the semester. They receive a grade for a practical application in which they must ride their horses around a ring, executing commands from the instructor, as well as a jumping assessment if they are in the hunter or eventing disciple. For that, midterms at the barn are often times more stressful than midterms on campus.

Two weeks before midterm week, instructor Lacey Yeager is already prepping her lessons of sophomores and their horses for testing. Twice a week, students and their horses run jumping grid-work to improve their positions. Three days a week they are riding “on the flat” with one day devoted to lateral and side-to-side movements. Their flat work is used as a way to improve their jumping.

“I work with them to get their horses more responsive with more challenges and obstacles,” said Yeager. “This usually involves moving through turns and incorporating poles.”

Yeager also explains that she, as an instructor, must take into consideration certain factors when she is giving her students grades. She knows that prepping a horse to pique performance can be difficult. She must take the horse’s mood into consideration and even if they’ve been let outside out before the rider rode.

Nicole Thungen, director of the farm and dressage instructor, tries to prepare her students to ride as many tests as possible until it becomes a normal routine and second nature. She finds that it helps prepare them more mentally for when the time comes to take their tests. Students have a choice of what test they ride. Most of the time, a student wants to challenge themselves and will attempt to ride a more difficult test.

“Most of the students want to reach for the highest level,” Thungen said. “As their instructor, it is my job to support it and help make it happen.”

Students must present their horses as “show ready” meaning they could walk into a professional show ring and look the part. This includes braiding in the style of their discipline. For hunters, this is small sections of braided hair pinned to the neck ranging from 35-40 braids. Dressage and jumpers are style in smaller braided balls ranging from 10-12. French braiding and “pinwheeling” the tail is optional. Ears must be clipped, as well as the whiskers around muzzle and hairs along neck. For the students who ride gray horses, they have an added struggle of ensuring their horses aren’t stained.

Like all other aspects of the equestrian industry, it becomes easier with experience. Senior Theresa Shattan is used to the stress brought on by midterm week. She finds that after four years she has less of the mental stress normally associated with the week. She has learned to get to the barn early enough to prepare her horse and rider and she has also learned that it is mostly about progression.

“The instructors know us as riders,” Shattan said, “so there is some level of comfort in that. They take certain things into consideration when scoring us.”

She now sees midterms as being a way to show off all the progression she has worked on throughout the first half of the semester. And she feels that as a senior now she “has got it down now and is not scrambling last minute.”

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