Although no students attended classes on Monday, Sept. 4for the Labor Day holiday, it was another work day as usual for Rocky Mountain College’s sophomore equestrian majors. By 6:30 a.m., all had arrived and begun their assigned chores in “the Barn” at the Intermountain Equestrian Center, RMC’s Equestrian training facility, well ahead of their assigned 7a.m. chore time.
The equestrian program, along with aviation, are RMC’s’s most popular undergraduate majors, but some equestrian majors feel underrepresented to the student body as a whole. While stuffing loose hay into a red bag for the horse closest to her wheelbarrow, Phoebe Miller commented, “So many students don’t even know we exist. I can’t tell you how many people ask me, ‘So, we have an equestrian program here?’” This disengagement may be, in part, because the boarding facility is located off campus and non-equestrian students do not observe the routine goings-on of the equestrian students as they participate in classes and barn chores. Unless an RMC student has roommates or friends that are equestrian majors, it is easy to be unaware.
Horses have to be fed grains (measured and mixed specifically for each equine), their water troughs must be refilled, their stalls cleaned with fresh hay spread, and hay bags filled so that horses can grab a mouthful at will. Sophomores are assigned the 7:00a.m. chores, and freshmen cover the 4:00 p.m. round, which includes hosing the flooring in the indoor and outdoor riding arenas for classes on weekdays.
Boarded horses at RMC’s Equestrian Training facility off Hwy. 3, west of the Billings airport; are cared for, trained, and ridden by students majoring in one or more equestrian specialties. “RMC is one of the only colleges in the country to offer five equestrian studies majors and a pre-vet option,” according to the Equestrian Undergraduate Major Overview on Rocky’s website.
Incoming equestrian students can major in Equine Business (managing boarding and training facilities), Equine Science (horse training, riding instruction, business, and service), Equine Science: Pre-Veterinary Medicine, Equitation and Training (horse training skills from the finished show horse to the very green unbroken horse), Riding Instruction, and Therapeutic Riding.
Natasha Laba, a sophomore at Rocky Mountain College with prior riding and horse training experience, said, “Western riding’s taught the first year and English riding [which uses a smaller saddle than for western riding] is taught [the] second year. Freshmen are taught how to take care of their [assigned] horse and how to ride; sophomores train them in the correct way and how to jump [fences and barricades].”
“Junior year students spend more time in the classroom and less time at the barn,” said junior equestrian student, Heather McCoy, “since all [of] their core requirements are done and they’ve got more academic classes to complete for their major.” McCoy is a therapeutic riding major who arrived alongside the sophomores during morning chore time on Labor Day. She had brought along a stethoscope in her RMC book bag, to “listen to gut sounds” , as well as heart sounds, respirations, and to check skin turgor on several of the horses for her class. This year McCoy, along with other junior therapeutic riding majors, will begin teaching horse riding classes to children with emotional and physical challenges; for whom “horse therapy” promotes self-confidence, and leadership, while strengthening their physical abilities, such as balance.
What is particular to RMC’s equestrian program is that it “encourages each student to find his or her place. When core subjects are met, the student can choose a program increasingly more tailored to his or her interests, whether it is teaching, training, business, therapeutic riding, or technology implementation,” per the college’s 2017-2018 course catalog. For more information, students can contact Amy Neuman, Associate Professor, Equestrian Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her office is Room 308 in Tyler Hall.
Irregardless of their specialty, all equestrian majors start with the basics: learning about horses, and how to care for and train them. Sophomores at the barn that day had plans to visit Yellowstone National Park in the afternoon, but they made sure the horses were watered and fed first. Displaying dependability and a strong work ethic, RMC’s equestrian students performed “work before play,” even on a holiday.