By: Leah Palm
Twitter – @_palmegranate
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
The month of October is a very anticipated time for Western Equestrian students, but not for the reasons that many may assume. While we all get excited for fall weather and Halloween, this month brings more exciting things for those of us who want to train horses.
The All American Quarter Horse Congress is the world’s largest single-breed horse show and is held every year in Columbus, Oh. The Congress spans over the month of October and averages 17 thousand entries and six thousand horses over the course of the show. As equestrian students at the University of Findlay, we are provided with the chance to leave school for a week and work for renowned trainers at the show.
While this is an exciting time for these students, others believe that this week out of class offered solely to equestrians is unfair and unnecessary. When viewed on the surface, this opportunity does, in fact, appear to be nothing more than an excuse to skip class and avoid responsibility for five whole days. After all, if barn instructors have the power to tell campus professors that we can leave class for the week, who wouldn’t take advantage of the excuse and run with it?
The thing is, when we, as equestrian students, decide to leave school for a week to work at the Congress, there is not a single thought that crosses our minds that suggests doing so will get us out of work. This is not an opportunity that we take lightly and there are even many who decide they do not want to participate.
Why? Because this assumed “break” looks completely different from the other side.
In order to work at the Congress, equestrian students must first get permission from all their professors to be absent for the classes during their chosen week. This permission has a few strings attached and is not a “get out of jail free” card. When given permission to miss class, students are often required to do all work that would be done during their week of absence ahead of time. This means more homework and projects piled on top of the existing ones before they leave.
They also may have to skip important quizzes or tests that may or may not be able to be made up during that week. It is up to each individual student to assess their grades and position in class and decide if they are capable of doubling-up on work and missing that week without falling behind.
Another misconception about this week of absence is the idea that these students go to Columbus to have fun and avoid responsibility. While being at the show and working with the horses is fun, it is also just that; work. Students are given all kinds of responsibilities when working at the Congress from cleaning stalls, feeding, and getting horses ready to show to riding and preparing clients to show. These students are also often subject to long hours as horse shows require almost 24 hours of attention a day, and this includes 2 a.m. rides, lunges or trips to the hot walker.
All this work is not done without reason. In fact, working at the Congress may be one of the most beneficial opportunities the students have during the school year. In the eyes of the trainers that we work for, it is an opportunity not to be passed up. Sarah Bernatowicz, horse trainer and co-owner of Bernatowicz Show Horses, explains why the Congress is such a big deal for students.
“For you guys, I think that it gives you a realistic look at what to expect at one of the largest shows of the year. From how to prepare horses and customers, to how to manage time and sleep, to how to handle the highs and lows of showing,” said Bernatowicz. “It’s a great perspective into the real showing world and not just the glamorous ‘walk-by’ that people get when walking through the show.”
So, while we may be leaving campus for a week, it is not a time that we take lightly and it is most definitely not to get out of work. For many of us, this is our favorite time of year and, although it is hard work for both campus classes and while in Columbus, the opportunity is more than worth it.
“There is a lot more that goes into it than just the fancy set ups and trophies and ribbons. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into it from the trainers to the customers to you guys who help, and I think it’s the best way to get a real grip on what it takes,” Bernatowicz emphasized.