This month, The Plaid Horse introduces readers to a standout school and one of its standout students: Foxcroft School’s Exceptional Proficiency program, and student-equestrian Virginia Bonnie.
For over 30 years, Foxcroft School’s Exceptional Proficiency (EP) program has enabled students to pursue their passions and spend time away from campus to train, compete, and grow their talents. Equestrian Virginia Bonnie, a senior at Foxcroft, embodies the determination of an EP scholar/athlete, showing at a high level as she pushes herself academically while earning ribbons and medals at show jumping venues around the country and the world.
While away from campus, Bonnie keeps up with her school work through the support of her teachers and tutors. Her academic rigor is as impressive as her efforts in the show ring. She currently carries a challenging course load including three Advanced Placement classes—AP Chemistry, AP English Literature, and AP Spanish Language & Culture—and she is a talented artist and writer as well, says her AP English teacher, Dr. Lindsay O’Connor.
“In the time that I have known her, Virginia has grown into a talented creative writer through curiosity and dedication to the craft,” says Dr. O’Connor. “Even as a distance learner attending classes over Zoom for her junior year, she showed consistent engagement with her learning. An able goal-setter and strategist, Virginia makes the most of whatever task she takes on.”
Bonnie had a very successful year in the show ring. In September, she earned gold at the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Youth Final in Kronenberg, Netherlands, as part of the prestigious U.S. Junior Jumping Team. In February at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL, she and her U25 team took the $25,000 Hermès Under 25 Grand Prix Series Team Event title and she was champion in the High Junior Jumpers.
At the Junior Nations Cup last fall, Bonnie and her teammates—Ansgar Holtgers, Jr., Caroline Mawhinney, and Zayna Rizvi—competed alongside 12 of the top teams across the world. Riding Efodea, Bonnie scored a clear 1.4 m round on Wednesday, and overall her team sat in third going into Saturday. Scores were wiped going into the final rounds, and Bonnie once again had no faults—the only member of her team to do so in both rounds. The team had just four faults and edged out Spain to take the gold medal.
Bonnie took much away from the experience. “With some of the wisest voices in U.S. show jumping present, such as Anne Kursinski and Dr. Geoff Vernon, there was just so much to learn,” says Bonnie. “It was also fascinating to be able to watch other countries and their training methods. I believe that I was able to leave the show as a wiser and more experienced rider and horsewoman.”
In the U25 team event during Week 4 of WEF, Bonnie rode Efodea well once again, with whom she has partnered in a number of Grand Prix events. The pair had two good rounds, accumulating just four faults for their team with a first round rail, the second best score among her teammates. Overall, the team—Bonnie, Eva Fisherman, Alexander Alston, Natalie Dean, and Chef d’Equipe John Brennan—had nine faults total (the lowest score) and stood proudly together with their blue ribbons on the podium.
During WEF 6 competitions in the High Junior Jumpers, Bonnie rode Heldorado to the championship title. On Feb. 18, the pair won the $1,500 High Junior Jumper (1.4 m) class and followed two days later with a second-place finish in the $10,000 SJHOF High Junior Jumper Classic (1.45 m).
In addition to the impressive medals and ribbons she’s earned, Bonnie was recently honored for her academic achievements. In the regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, she earned three Silver Key awards for works in several categories—“A Good Hair Day” (painting, uniquely crafted entirely out of horse hair), “Trout” (print), and “I am a Woman” (poem, which also earned her second place in the poetry slam competition of Foxcroft’s Paul K. Bergan Poetry Festival in 2021)—and an Honorable Mention for her critical essay “Love to Hermes.”
She was also elected to the school’s chapter of the Cum Laude Society, which is modeled on the collegiate Phi Beta Kappa. The election recognizes a student’s superior academic record and demonstration of a serious interest in the pursuit of knowledge and academic integrity. Bonnie will be officially inducted into the Society at the Cum Laude induction ceremony held during Foxcroft’s awards assembly in May, the day before she earns her diploma.
A lot of planning and dedication is required of Bonnie, who maintains high aspirations both in the show ring and in the classroom. She is talented, but she works hard for her success and is honest about the challenges of taking on such a heavy load.
“Realistically, it’s hard,” she says. “On both fronts, it’s going to take a lot of effort, and there’s no easy way to make it all flow seamlessly. Some days are going to be more difficult, some days are going to be much easier. But generally, balancing riding and academics has required me to maintain a sense of discipline. You don’t get a lot of time off from the days at the show, so in the time that you have, you need to get your work done, follow through on assignments, and keep up with the emails.”
Through it all, Bonnie is becoming a more well-rounded young woman, and she sees the value in the experience. “In my eyes, school and academic curiosity are invaluable in achieving a healthy balance. While I love the horses endlessly and I want to continue to learn and develop, being able to step back and think about something else makes me better and more thoughtful on both fronts.”
Experiential Learning Coordinator Beth O’Quinn serves as the conduit between EP students, their tutors, and the faculty at Foxcroft throughout the year. She witnesses first hand Bonnie’s efforts and commitment to all her endeavors. “Virginia is an extraordinary rider and horsewoman and an outstanding student,” says O’Quinn. “It is worth noting that even with all her talent, she always remains humble and is reliably kind to her peers. I know that Virginia will find great success in whatever path she chooses in life.”
EP participants represent a wide variety of backgrounds—equestrians, musicians, ski racers, figure skaters, a competitive swimmer, a motorcyclist, a rock climber, an emergency medical technician, and a certified doula, and more—each of whom balances pursuit of their personal dream with the high academic standards of the school. Through her participation in the EP program, Bonnie sits alongside world class equestrian alumni, including Alison Firestone Robitaille (No. 1 alternate for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens).
What’s next for Bonnie as she ages out of the junior rider ranks and graduates from Foxcroft at the end of May?
“While I plan to become a professional, I want to remain a student of the sport, because I understand that there’s so much left for me to learn,” says Bonnie. “There are so many ways that I can develop. While my aspirations in terms of results and accomplishments are certainly high, what I really want is to continue growing and building strong relationships with animals and all the great people I’ve met in the sport.”
“I do want to compete on senior show jumping teams, including in the Olympics, World Cups, Nations Cups, top-level Grand Prix riding, but up until then, and even after that, I just want to keep learning.”
May she never stop learning.
*This story was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
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