On May 15 the Andrews Osborne Academy, located in Willoughby, Ohio, announced that it will discontinue its riding program and convert the existing equestrian facilities into an indoor athletic facility as of June 30.
The news came as a shock to many of the equestrian program’s alumni, and the school’s interscholastic riding team, which was away competing at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Hunt Seat National Finals in West Springfield, Mass.
The Board of Directors at Andrews Osborne, a private co-educational day and boarding school with more than 300 students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, voted May 13 to shut down the equestrian center at the close of the 2013-2014 school year.
In a letter to alumni sent following the decision, Head of School Charles Roman acknowledged that the decision was not made in haste, and that the equestrian program was losing money.
According to the letter sent by Roman, who did not respond to a request for comment, over the past six years, the equestrian center lost a total of $1.6 million. Of the 373 students enrolled at Andrews Osborne, 28 ride at the center and only three boarding students enrolled because of the facilities.
He added that the planned indoor athletic facility “will realize rental income as well as give students, parents, faculty and staff an opportunity to use a facility that will promote a healthy lifestyle” and that in a feasibility study and survey, one of the recurrent messages was that the athletic facilities and programs needed improvement.
Roman said that there was a proposal to lease the equestrian facilities, but “following a careful review of the proposal, the Board voted not to accept the lease proposal.”
The equestrian program employs between nine and 10 people, and no statement has been publicly released about their future employment. The school’s 13 horses will be re-homed.
Andrews Osborne was founded in 1910 as The Andrews School for Girls and merged in 2007 with Phillips-Osborne School to become co-ed. It has managed the equestrian program since the mid-1970s. The current equestrian facilities opened in 1999 and feature 42 stalls, two indoor rings and a large outdoor ring.
Ann Garton, a 1988 graduate of The Andrews School, served as the equestrian program coordinator from 1995-2000. She was disappointed in how the school handled the closing of the equestrian center, which was the birthplace of the IEA and held the USEF Pony Finals in 2003.
She recalled that during her time there, the program was thriving, with a waiting list for boarding and lessons, and several top trainers on staff.
“It’s capable of being a strong program,” she said. “I think what the alumni are concerned about is that we were never approached as alums saying, ‘We’re in trouble, and we need financial help.’ There has not been any recruitment in that manner to get help from the alumni. There are many alumni who work in the business and have contacts with Olympians and top-notch hunter riders.”
Garton, now a practicing nurse, remembered her time at Andrews fondly and sees the equestrian program and its public lesson program and day camps as a good recruitment tool for the school, as well as a way to foster friendships and responsibility.
“At the time, it gave me some key skills to be self-reliant and know-how to care for an animal,” she said. “I think that Mrs. Andrews, who was the benefactor for the Andrews School, that was her goal—to create a school to create self-reliant young women. I think that did a lot for us. For some of us, the program was also an outlet. Teenagers sometimes need that, and I think that was key for many of us. We got to travel to horse shows across the country, and I have lifelong friends.”
Another alumna, Anne Hedge, started an online petition soon after the announcement was made. So far there are about 1,000 signatures.
The equestrian center will close on June 30, but according to Garton, a group of alumni are hoping to present the petition and a plan put together by local businesses in hopes of keeping the equestrian center open beyond that date.