By Alethea Kavarnos

The Horse Practicum and facility nestled in the barns on Horsebarn Hill teach 250 students every semester to learn how to ride horses.

Starting around 50 years ago, the Horse Practicum is a program where students can learn many different equine skills. Students can join the practicum just to learn to ride, or they join to as a prerequisite to be on any of the riding teams on campus.

Practicum lecturer, Alena Meacham, says many students decide to go to UConn because of its riding program. It draws in both pre-professional students and those who want to ride when they get to college. The Practicum is also a big part of the Animal Science Department at UConn where students can have hands on learning about all facets of horsemanship and care.

Sophomore Katie Doran, from Simsbury, Connecticut has been taking lessons in the horse practicum since she began at UConn as a freshman. She began riding as a child during summer camp and then moved up to taking regular lessons for seven years. She knew she would go to a college with an equestrian program to continue her riding.

“A riding team was one of the biggest things I looked for when coming to college. I was between a couple different ones like UVM (University of Vermont) and UConn, and I really loved the UConn facilities and the fact that we had a barn right down the road from campus. That was really easy and appealing to me,” Doran says.

Meacham says the practicum is crucial for students who just want to ride or to take the skills on to a competitive riding team, because it teaches students confidence and to think on their feet, promotes the importance of body language and helps physical fitness.

Students can choose the lessons they prefer. The practicum offers classes in Dressage, Hunt Seat, Polo, Saddle Seat, Trail, Drill and Western. They have levels ranging from beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate I & II and advanced classes. The lessons are about two hours a week and students can choose the time slot that works for them.

When students go to the barn for their lesson, they are paired up with a horse for the day, then go down to the stall to get the horse ready. After the student takes the horse to the arena, they begin with warm ups. They work with Meacham and TA’s to improve their skills.

Doran says while some are just on the practicum, so they can participate in a riding team and compete, most of the 250 students take classes just to ride.

For Doran, riding in the practicum at UConn is very important to her.

“I have loved riding my whole life and UConn is just so accommodating for my needs with riding. There are so many options for what I can do with it and it’s a really good experience. It’s great, because we have so many horses and we have an amazing facility here.”

Although the practicum is widely popular with students, one challenge is the cost. It is $471.24 a semester, which Doran says can be a real hardship.

“I know a couple of my friends, they aren’t able to ride every semester just because of that huge cost.”

But, Doran and others who ride at the practicum understand that.

“Riding is an expensive sport, and if you are doing it, you know that. And it is a very good deal for what you get and how much riding you do over the semester. Compared to what a lot of girls do back home.”

Doran and other practicum members express how many people around campus do not know anything about the riding programs and all the different opportunities.

“I think a lot of people don’t even realize that we have this huge facility on campus and that we have all these programs to ride. A lot of people don’t realize how close to UConn it is and how easy it is to be in the program and to do lessons here,” Doran says.

The practicum is open to any student regardless of their skill level. There are a wide range of options for lessons and many talented instructors willing to help students learn.

“It’s a great place to start or further your riding career,” Doran says.