THE SADDLE CLUB
Meet the schools that are helping horse-mad students continue their equestrian training and take their ‘best friend’ too.
WORDS Bronte Gossling
Australian boarding schools have a reputation for offering some of the best equestrian programs in the world, ensuring that, for avid horse riders, boarding school does not mean having to give up their passion. Some schools also cater for pupils who don’t have their own horses, but still want to improve their riding skills by offering lease arrangements or having dedicated school steeds for pupil use. So grab your curry comb and hoof pick and take a look at these boarding schools that feature an equestrian program perfect for any horse-mad child.
These boarding schools draw on both recreational and competitive equestrian practices to create all-inclusive educational programs that cater for every need. Although equestrian debuted as a summer sport at the 1900 Parisian Olympics, students of the more competitive schools – such as NEGS in Armidale, New South Wales – train yearround with their own horses. Founded in 1895, NEGS complements its state-of-theart agistment and training facilities with an even stronger coaching team. It is no surprise that its Head of Equestrian, Imtiaz Anees, is a former Olympian and leads a team of NCAS-qualified instructors. Anees is behind the Coach Mentoring Program, which uses open riding areas and the school’s facilities – including two Olympic indoor arenas, two outdoor dressage arenas, a camp draft arena, cross-country course and a practice polocrosse field – to motivate students to reach their potential; this explains why more than 75 per cent of competitors at all major NSW equestrian school events are NEGS students. As well as its high-performance and development squads across all disciplines (eventing, show jumping, dressage, camp drafting and polocrosse), the school also offers annual overseas trips for its Year 9 and Year 11 students.
The Hamilton and Alexandra College could well be described as NEGS’ Victorian equivalent in ethos. The coeducational day and boarding school, founded in 1871, boasts 14 hectares worth of heritage-listed architecture, gardens and educational facilities. The Equestrian Centre, with its all-weather and sand arenas, allows students to agist their own horses and, unlike NEGS, is home to communal horses. If your child has the passion, but not a hoofed companion, he or she can use one owned by the college. The school takes equestrian study further than extra-curricular; it qualifies students from Year 10 in the Certificate II in Equine Industry, and teaches Horsemanship as an enriching elective for students from Year 9.
In the NSW Southern Highlands, Frensham exemplifies its mission statement of emotional and physical wellbeing and individual growth through its facilities dedicated to equestrian sports. Founded in 1913, the girls’ boarding and day school is set on 140 hectares, and agists horses throughout the school year while students train in all Olympic disciplines. Although Frensham has agistment facilities, it does not have communal horses; students need to purchase or lease a horse to be able to ride. Girls also have the opportunity to further engage with their natural surroundings through agricultural studies; the subject is mandatory in Year 7, with the choice to continue in Years 9 and 10, and into the Higher School Certificate. Students investigate the management of plant and animal enterprises, and learn about technologies used in Australian agricultural practice.
When choosing a school, the location is as important to consider as the programs on offer. Fairholme College, based in Toowoomba, Queensland and founded in 1917, is one of the largest boarding schools in Australia. Students practise their disciplines against the sweeping backdrop of the Great Dividing Range. The girls’ day and boarding school provides shelter for students’ horses, and they transport the horses to events throughout the year. Equestrian coordinator, Tracey Sexton, and the coaching team take advantage of having the girls’ horses on campus to train for the Interschool Queensland competition, with many going on to compete at a national level.
Bathurst, NSW, is an urban centre in a rural setting, and perhaps unsurprisingly home to two major equestrian boarding schools. The Scots School Bathurst, founded in 1946 with 19th-century roots, emphasises both social and academic development. As a comprehensive school, each child is well known to staff, who prioritise individual care, growth and development. With 40 hectares of Edenic countryside, many students choose to pursue agricultural studies as a subject. Boarders can agist their horses each term, with events occurring throughout the year and equestrian offered as a summer sport.
All Saints’ College Bathurst homes in on the benefits of equestrian studies by actively being more than a classroom. Founded in 1874, the coeducational school allows boarding for students in Year 7 and above, while agistment is offered on campus in vast paddocks with shelters. Students who agist their horses also have access to the sand arena and the train carriage, which stores tack and feed. The All Saints’ Equestrian Club trains regularly in group sessions divided by ability level, with lessons occurring both on and off the impressive campus with Equestrian Australia-qualified instructors. Regular clinics are hosted at the college for students to hone their show jumping, dressage and team penning skills before the annual North West Equestrian Expo, All Saints’ biggest equestrian event of the year. The Equestrian Club is available only to those who have their own horses.
With the advantage of stunning natural surroundings, world-class facilities and toptier teaching, it is no wonder that Australian boarding schools are at the forefront of equestrian studies worldwide.
If you need another reason to take your horse to school, look no further than Selby and Smith’s 2012 study on the benefits of equine therapy. Horses are emotional mirrors and, as herdanimals, they are an empathetic source of emotional comfort. The physical rhythm and motion of the horse gives balance, coordination and self-confidence, as humans adjust themselves to the gait. Many celebrities use equine therapy to ground themselves, such as Beth Behrs, Bo Derek, Kaley Cuoco and Richard Gere.
Continue your equine studies at the University of Queensland
Established in 1909, this prestigious university is primarily located in Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane. Yet, if you drive an hour-and-a-half inland to Gatton, you will come across the University of Queensland’s agricultural college. The heritage-listed campus is home to the Equine Unit, where the School of Agricultural and Food Sciences and the School of Veterinary Science agist over 100 horses for research and care. Facilities include a horse walker, round yards, performance testing, reproduction laboratory, holding yards, teasing lanes and equestrian training arenas. Students studying a Bachelor of Equine Science have the option to agist their own horse at this campus, with accommodation such as 39 stables, 58 day yards and nine combination yards available year-round.