Monday was the kick-off of the Virginia Tech Riding Series, a summer long program offering lessons on the school’s horses to assist experienced riders and meet perspective students.
Sherri West, the Campbell Arena Supervisor and Assistant Equestrian Coach at Virginia Tech, will be teaching riders ages 11 and up in various classes of jumping based on their skill level.
West has taught the Virginia Tech Riding Series for five years with the help of members of the Virginia Tech Equestrian Club and riding students.
Participants of the riding series attend four two-hour classes in a two-week session. There are beginning, intermediate and advanced level jumping classes offered throughout the summer.
West said the focus of the semester riding courses and Equestrian Club is to improve the rider’s position and how they connect with each horse. This will also be the concentration for the riding series.
“Equestrian means the art of the riders position and how that influences the horse,” West said. “We’re ultimately trying to improve how they figure out the language with the horses.
“When we do lessons, the riders are probably going to be on a different horse every time. Each horse is just like a person with their own personality. We’re more concerned on your equitation than the actual performances of the horses."
To be able to manage various types of horses, the rider must be consistent and maintain strength and muscle memory within their own body.
“The most challenging thing about riding is you have to use certain muscle groups and not use others,” she said. “You have to be able to control your body to control the horse.”
West said that there are 12 people registered for the first section, and most of the students in the summer series are from the local area. When there are people from out of town, West said they are flexible to move classes closer together so the participants do not have to stay as long.
Some of the classes are scheduled during Tech’s freshman orientation for those interested in the Equestrian Club or semester riding classes. West said this helps them suggest which classes the students should sign up for and provides them an opportunity to experience her coaching style.
“We talk about the program and give them a chance to ride our horses,” West said. “It gives people an idea of where they fall in level of classes.”
The perspective students will also meet and be introduced to the horses by Virginia Tech students who are in the Equestrian Club or take the riding classes. Some of the riders caring for and exercising the horses over the summer commented on West’s coaching style.
“She’s very positive, and she likes constructive criticism,” said Megan Kunsman, a senior psychology major.
Olivia Wymer, a senior human development major, also had nothing but praise for West.
“She uses analogies and asks you ‘What did you think about it?’” she said.
These riders are working in exchange for their own lessons and to learn more about how to care for the animals and the operation of a barn.
“Most of the labor is comprised of students,” West said. “It’s a laboratory for learning.”
An important component of working in the barn is understanding the horses.
“All of us have worked to take care of the horses,” said Caitlin Ward a senior animal and poultry major.
Jessica Ropelewski, a senior biology major, said she spends at least three to four hours a day around the barn or in the arena working on projects or helping with the horses.
The senior riders said the satisfaction of practicing and improving is worth all of the hard work.
West said that since most students during the school year use the calmer horses, the other horses need attention while the sweeter ones get a vacation.
“The horses that are used in the summer need the exercise, so they don’t become juvenile delinquents by the time school starts,” West said.
West said there are 35-40 horses and about 80 students who ride during the school year, and there are about 60 riders in the Equestrian Club.