Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Centenary College Equine Program Is Anything But Sedentary


Boasting a variety of equine studies programs, top-level intercollegiate competitive opportunities and an expansive equestrian center, Centenary College, located in Hackettstown, N.J., has a lot to offer students.
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Boasting a variety of equine studies programs, top-level intercollegiate competitive opportunities and an expansive equestrian center, Centenary College, located in Hackettstown, N.J., has a lot to offer students.

But those bright-eyed freshmen aren’t the only ones catching on to the impressive offerings of this small school in Northeast New Jersey. In addition to hosting the Intercollegiate Dressage Association and American National Riding Commission championships during two consecutive weeks in April this year, Centenary will be the first college to host a U.S. Equestrian Federation Licensed Officials Clinic at the end of March.

Andrea Wells, a professor, coach of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team and director of the equestrian center at Centenary, is also an R-rated USEF judge and serves on the United States Hunter Jumper Association Special Projects Committee. She suggested using the college as a clinic host to provide applicants something other than the typical clinic offerings held in conjunction with large shows.

“We’re basically putting on a show for them. It will be all of our college students doing the riding, and some of them will be able to use it as ANRC practice,” noted Wells.

Centenary has added an outdoor hunt course to their existing well-outfitted facilities, which include two large indoor arenas, in preparation for ANRC, which is a four-phase, equitation-based competition comprised of written, dressage, show jumping and field hunter-style phases.

Wells and the school’s equine faculty didn’t intend for 2007 to be such a banner—and somewhat crazed—year. It evolved innocuously enough from their successful hosting of the IHSA Tournament of Champions horse show in December 2004.

“I think we’d kind of kept our horses a secret until then, and it was really an outstanding event. We had lots of people asking us, ‘Why don’t you do more things?’ ”, said Wells.

Making An Impression

This year’s schedule wasn’t quite so daunting until Centenary agreed to switch IDA hosting duties with Mt. Holyoke (Mass.) from 2008 to 2007 to alleviate the pressure on the latter school’s docket, which includes helping with this year’s IHSA Nationals in West Springfield, Mass., the first weekend in May. Centenary will be donating the use of some of their horses for IHSA Nationals, having brought 14 of their string to last year’s show.

“Our horses are fabulous. We have a really deep, wide base of horses that we have gotten from a variety of sources, but many of them were donated to us by top professionals,” said Wells. “The ANRC [riders] actually bring their own, so there won’t be too much use of our horses, but the day after IDA we pack up for IHSA.”

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To assist with the increased demands this year, Wells is getting help from a former student and IHSA team captain as well as several students working in an independent study capacity through the school.

“They get some event management experience, and shows are similar across the board, with many of the same concerns that need to be addressed, so it’s great practice for them,” she said. “We also have a class in management of equestrian activities, and those students have to step up as part of their curriculum to help us.”

Such hands-on learning opportunities are par for the course at the school, even in less event-dense years.

In 2004, they began their Therapeutic Riding at Centenary program, which provides a certification program through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. The school provides the chance for internship experiences with organizations such as the USEF or Breyer or with industry professionals and veterinary clinics. They recently hired a staff veterinarian, Michael Fugaro, who not only cares for their horses, but also gives practical learning opportunities for students who can shadow him.

Centenary has also established a study abroad program with the University of West England-Hartpury College, of which five students are currently enrolled. Hartpury is more equine science-based, housing exciting “toys” such as an operating theater and an aqua treadmill.

Opportunities Abound

Started in the late ’60s, Centenary’s equine studies major incorporates riding opportunities into the curriculum, according to the concentration chosen. Students participate in riding classes twice per week, with IDA and IHSA team practices held on Friday.

“We’re IHSA not NCAA. NCAA doesn’t work for us because we’re trying to make students into professionals and give them all the opportunities that would lose their NCAA status,” said Wells. “Plus, we’re Division III, so it really doesn’t make sense for us.”

Their IHSA team, started in 1973, is composed of nearly 80 riders, approximately 40 of which show regularly. They hold a record 16 regional championship titles for Zone 2, Region 1 and are consistently in the top three at nationals.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve won that yellow ribbon!” said Wells, who left her private professional business in 1995 to work at Centenary. “We have a really competent faculty base [of R- and r-rated judges and R-rated stewards], so it helps that we’re able to bring back the right information. We’re out there in the industry and can bring that back to the classroom.”

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The college also has a club-level eques-trian team, which competes in local one-day shows as well as one or two A-rated shows each year, such as nearby Garden State, which is also a volunteer opportunity for many students and faculty.

“I saw how well they consistently did [at regular shows as well as regional and nationals championships] and began to realize this could really be a place for me,” said Randi Cashman, a freshman, whose parents have coached the United States Military Academy’s IHSA team for 20 years.

“A really big part of my decision was the coaching staff, especially the head coach, Andrea Wells. I have known Andrea for many years, but when I got to the age of realizing how much a good coach makes the difference in your riding, I realized that Andrea was going to be just what I needed to bring me to the next level.”

There is some boarding on the property for students’ horses, but it’s not a practice that’s encouraged for most people.

“Sometimes it’s harder to get horses in than the students—they have to apply as well,” said Wells. “We don’t want them to limit themselves to one horse because we have such nice horses here. It’s great for them to have access to multiple horses, and we want them to have that experience.”

Centenary graduate Kelly Balk is one student who took advantage of the many educational opportunities, which paid off after graduation.

“I looked into seven equestrian schools and applied to a few, but I kept coming back to Centenary College. The barn was enormous and beautiful, as were their over 100 horses,” she said. “The campus was small and personal, and the intercollegiate hunt seat team was nationally ranked and well-known. I felt I could be at home there as well as fill in the many gaps in my education.

“Through the people I know from Centenary, I now live with my best friend from college and work as an assistant trainer in a growing competitive A-circuit barn in Southern California, riding up to eight or 10 horses a day, teaching lessons and coaching at horse shows,” she continued. “Going into college I was intimidated and overwhelmed, but coming out I feel confident and prepared. I can answer almost every question our clients ask, I understand and work with the veterinarians easily, and if a situation arises I’m not completely sure of, I have a slew of people I can call for advice, though my instincts have become very good from my experience.”

Opportunities for experience truly abound at Centenary, particularly now. “It’s a crazy year,” admitted Wells. “But I think our students are really going to benefit from it. It will help them be prepared for whatever lies in store.”

Stacey Reap

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