“One of the most valuable things I've gotten out of the barn program is not just exposure to horses, a fun work environment, and a real sense of accomplishment in work done, but real growth in leadership. As an extremely anxious person, being part of the barn program has helped build a lot of confidence in dealing with uncertain situations (that always crop up when dealing with animals) and a variety of people.
Also, there's a balance between people who have lived around horses their whole lives and those who haven't. People on the outside ask questions, push routines, and lead to everyone learning more. People on the inside have a wealth of knowledge they get to share with people who are looking to know. And because pure, simple work is required to run the barn, everyone can pitch in, even if everyone can't teach advanced lessons.”
— Jaclyn Gormish ’17
“The Barn Co-op is an insanely awesome, unique program. We are not a typical boarding barn: we’re a student-run cooperative. We are designed to do everything we can to mitigate elitism and privilege that plague the larger horse community. While we are certainly not perfect, we strive to be equally accessible to the people who’ve ridden since before they could walk and to the people who’ve never seen a horse. Everyone follows the same policies, works shifts, takes a lesson, and is expected to pass our student-taught courses. Moreover, we are also a leadership program because we have to lead ourselves. New members learn to be responsible adults in the barn. Experienced and inexperienced riders teach and learn from each other and work together to run the barn safely. Everyone has ownership of the program, and the responsibilities are enormous even when everything goes to plan. But in return, we have the use of incredible horse-keeping facilities. We have a blast fussing over the horses, working shifts, teaching and taking lessons, trail riding, jumping, competing, and spoiling our cats.
Before joining co-op, I had a lot of previous horse experience but what little barn experience I had was at cliquey, politics-laden boarding barns. I came to Earlham as a very awkward, introverted freshman who wanted to ride and learn but without contributing to the co-op community. I quickly realized that I did want to learn to fit in, but I did not know how to be a good community member.
After two (well deserved) rejections, I was accepted onto Barn Staff, which slapped me into shape. I have had endless opportunities to practice active listening, intelligently wording emails, picking battles, apologizing, laughing it off, compromising, problem solving, taking the high moral ground, appreciating the talents of others, and learning how to be a good community member. This has all made me into a much more competent, functional, and stable adult.
On a deeper level, serving on Barn Staff has brought me face to face with my flaws that I never thought I could change, such as having horrible people skills, and given me motivation to try improving myself. I have learned to never say “that’s just who I am.” Now, for every situation I go into, I methodically ask myself what the desired outcome is, how I need to act to make it happen, and if I’m not naturally good at acting that way, who is good at it, what they do to be good at it, what I can learn from them, and finally what I can do to successfully execute my plan. As a result, I am much more open, adaptable, and comfortable in my own skin because I know that I am not a fixed quantity: I can adapt, deal with, improve, and learn from anything that comes my way.
For example, last spring I was in a job interview and the interviewer mentioned that they wanted to gauge how excited I was. I momentarily panicked because I am not good at looking excited. Two years ago, I would have thought “woe is me, I can’t look excited because that’s not who I am.” Instead, I recalled everything I knew that communicates excitement and I seamlessly rearranged my body language, tone of voice, and general presence to communicate excitement. I got the job, and I’m firmly convinced I owe that job to my time on Barn Staff.
I am the Barn Co-op’s current Barn Manager, and it is an honor to jointly lead the program that has made me into an adult I can be proud of. I am forever grateful and indebted to the many co-op members who put up with my lone-wolfish awkwardness and terrible people skills and never stopped being fabulous role models, mentors, support systems, and friends as I slowly grew up.”
— Maren Schroeder ’18
The Earlham equestrian program is unlike anything I've experienced before. It allows for people from all different backgrounds and levels of horse knowledge to come together and learn about caring for horses. It teaches way more than the basic horse knowledge. In this program you truly learn all aspects of horsemanship. It lets you choose what kind of person you want to be in relation to horses and helps you to really understand how a horse thinks and how to connect with them. It's a great place to be. I know my horsemanship has changed drastically in the time I've spent at Earlham. It's even helped me better work with horses at my hometown barn.
— Zoe Wallis ’19
Coming from a strong equine background, adjusting to the small program life was challenging at first. It was easy to see the potential the barn had to become a top-tier horse program. Furthermore, my passion was still training young horses; seeing the development of a young horse was by far the most rewarding feeling I had ever experienced. Thus, I was still focused on training horses to train riders. I can still remember a conversation with an old faculty advisor to this day – where he said something to the effect of “This program was never designed to grow the best collegiate equestrian program; it is designed to grow the best people.” Though the program had first attracted me as an athlete who was unwilling to succumb to the typically structured equestrian program, I later began to appreciate it as something that taught me valuable lessons outside of the arena. I became a much more patient person, improving my active listening skills to understand others’ perspectives. I stopped trying to move the development of the program along faster than it was ready to move. I spent more time investing in my fellow co-op members, listening to their fears, their worries, advising meetings, where to find help, how to address difficult situations with grace, etc. As such, the program did not change much during my time as one of its leaders; however, there are a number of members I am able to reflect back on and measure their personal growth from those experiencing Earlham for the first time, to those who now also serve as mentors for the newcomers.
Adjusting to Earlham itself can be a roller coaster as many of us do not always understand the implications of our positions in society. Supporting and assisting students through that process in addition to navigating the barn was akin to the process of training a young horse, and something I found to be equally as enjoyable and rewarding. There is a certain ‘light bulb’ moment when someone gets it – that is, when someone is able to step outside themselves and the natural drive to fulfill one’s own needs, and instead be able to place the needs of the programs and people around themselves first.
In other words, a person discovers the space in which they exist and the essence of that existence, and are able to transcend their existence to better understand how it might effect, benefit, or harm that which exists around them. Moreover, with said understanding, a person is able to use their own existence not only for themselves, but can choose to allocate their own space and associated resources to the betterment of their surroundings and/or the betterment of the existence of those around them.
— Christy Crozier ’16
“The real reason I initially visited Earlham was because of the Equestrian Co-op and it is one of the best things about this school. I look forward to waking up at 6 AM and going out into below freezing weather to feed the horses, let them out into the pastures, and clean out stalls. I am rewarded by being around the horses and seeing the sunrises. The other perks of the Co-op are being able to work with other students who love horses just as much as I do (or more!) and learning about how to become a better rider with their help. The barn is also my escape from school when I want to avoid the stress of studying, whether I actually get on a horse or just spend time with the barn cats.”
— Faith Jackobs ’18
“For me as an Earlhamite, the equestrian program was a place for me to learn and to teach. I learned not only about horse care, barn maintenance, and working with people, but also strengthened my teaching skills with horse enthusiasts both on and off the horse. I had opportunities to take leadership roles, but also lend a helping hand as a member of the cooperative. I see a great future for this program in the opportunities it can to provide to every Earlham student that walks onto campus, no matter their prior background or their future plans.”
— Hannah Irvine ’16
“For me, the best part of the barn has been the chance to just get to relax with and really get to know the horses. I took English lesson for 8 years at a city barn outside of Chicago and although I had many good experiences there, I always felt that I was paying a lot of money to be there for a very short period of time each week, so I needed to learn whichever skill I was working on as quickly as I could. At Earlham, if all I want to do is go out and groom a schoolie, that's great. I can watch the horses interact with each other in the pastures and learn groundwork with other members of the co-op. Being at a place that is really for people who just want to enjoy being around horses has allowed me to fill in many of the horsey experiences I was missing and I look forward to spending even more time at the barn next year.”
— Julia Freeman ’19
As an Earlhamite:
My Earlham experience would have been radically different without the barn. In fact, the equestrian program was the driving force behind my decision to attend Earlham. In some ways, it was exactly what I expected: it was a barn ON CAMPUS (How cool is that?); it was actually student run; it was a group of individuals bound by their common passion for all things equine, willing to give up hours of their precious free time every week to take care of these creatures. But that's just the surface. There is so much activity, so much life in this barn that is sitting just under the surface, impossible to see until you experience the program.
The barn was my second home during my four years at Earlham. In all honesty, I probably spent more time there than I did in my dorm room. It was my program. It was my responsibility. Ask anyone who participated in this program- they'll say the same thing. The program belongs to the students. Even if they don't have a horse, or a wealth of experience, each student carries a piece of this program with them. And each student carries a piece of the responsibility. And that is a huge part of what makes this program so great.
As a co-op member
The barn co-op members come from all sorts of equine backgrounds, and some have never seen a horse outside of a You Tube video. While it is absolutely wonderful to have so many different levels of experience, it can be challenging at times. Like when 40 people try to reach a consensus on a seemingly simple question (i.e., do we let boarders turn their horses out at night?). Some days those Monday night meetings seemed to drag on forever, but at the end of the night our program was just that much stronger. Every single co-op member has a stake in this program, and it shows through the work they put into their work shifts, and the thought they put into problem-solving at meetings. And these people, who without horses you may have never gotten to know? They might just turn out to be your best friends. I know that was true for me. Even now, I have a whole network of people just one email, text, call away when I have a training issue I need help with or a question about my horse's health.
The other thing I absolutely love about this program is the different levels on involvement. If you have ten million other extracurriculars, you can put in your 5 co-op hours a week and ride the school horses whenever you get a chance. If you want to be more involved, you can join the Barn Staff or the equestrian team. In my case, I did EVERYTHING. I was in co-op and on team for all four years, I did barn staff for two, and was team captain for one and a half (and I was even able to squeeze a study abroad semester in there). How involved you are is completely up to you, which is hugely important when you’re a full time student.
Barn staff seems pretty simple on paper. Five people with specific jobs that work together to keep the barn running smoothly. What could go wrong, right? Turns out, when horses are in the picture, pretty much everything can. You have an important meeting? A school horse colics. Have a full lesson schedule? A school horse comes up lame. Time for team practice? Our best jumper loses a shoe. Ready to finally relax on mid semester break? Pasture one horses take out a fence. Huge biology exam the next day? Horse comes in with a fever and no appetite. There were days I wanted to pull my hair out, days I wanted to cry, days when all I could do was laugh it off. Many days it felt like I was pouring my heart and soul into this program and not making any progress. Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it.
So that begs the question: if I had the chance to do it over again, would I? The answer is a loud, resounding yes. I wouldn't trade a minute of that experience for the world. My two years as a barn staffer taught me a lot about horses, about dealing with many different kinds of people, but mostly it taught me about myself. It showed me that I did have what it takes to be a leader. It showed me that I'm stronger than I think. It showed me that a common passion combined with effort can push a group of unlikely comrades to pull off the impossible. It taught me that my to-do list never really ends, it just changes. It taught me that time management is an essential life skill. It taught me far more than I could ever put into words, and even as an alumna I am still figuring out everything the barn taught me. I know I owe Earlham a debt much larger than student loans for allowing me to be a part of this program for the short four years I was a student. At the end of the day, is the work of a barn staffer stressful, exhausting, and frustrating? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely.
There is no other program like Earlham's. The true treasure of this program is its students, from the most skilled to the one who's just putting their foot in the stirrup for the first time. The students have created a program that caters to everyone. The students make it their job to find good school horses, to make sure the barn is stocked with hay and shavings, to make sure the horses stay healthy and sound, to take care of their fellow co-op members on shifts or while riding. You won't find another program like this anywhere else because you won't find students like this anywhere else. You give a lot to this program, but at the end of the day the program gives you back just as much.
Some people (like me) choose to add more barn hours to their schedule by joining team. Trust me when I say the equestrian team is a whole different beast than the co-op. Those 4am drives to horse shows (not complete without a Starbuck's run), the task of scheduling a time when our coach and all of our riders can come out for practice every week, assigning horses that match everyone's skill level while still giving them experience on different horses, the endless fundraisers to help us pay for our competitions- all this on top of co-op duties. It was exhausting. And all for what... 5 minutes in a show ring?
Except that's not what team is all about. It's not just about those 5 minutes riding a horse whose name you drew out of a hat in front of a judge you'll never meet again. It's about cheering on your teammates. It's about those late night boot cleaning parties before a show weekend. It's about getting that striding just right on the bending line after working on it for weeks. It's about seeing your teammates and yourself improve throughout the course of a year, or two, or three. It's about forming friendships that last far past graduation. All that hard work is more than worth what you get in return.
Sure, the ribbons are exciting. Chanting our fight song when a teammate gets a blue ribbon is exciting. Adding up the points at the end of the day to see how where your team ranks is exciting. That adrenaline rush as you reach into a bucket to see which horse you’re going to be riding that day is exciting. Qualifying for regionals is exciting. But those exciting moments add up to only a few minutes out of a 12-hour show day. Which is why I love this team- it was never about those few exciting moments. It’s about everything in between, everything that happens to get you to those few exciting moments.”
— Elizabeth Harper ’15