By Randi C. Heathman
Though many schools of thought exist regarding the way to approach equestrian education, nearly all agree that hands-on training is the best. Whether it’s riding or horse and stable management, immersion in a system of training under the supervision of knowledgeable professionals allows students to acquire the skills that will serve them later in their lives, whether as working equestrian professionals or ambitious amateurs.
With a wide range of equestrian disciplines represented across the United States, an equally broad selection of equine educational opportunities are available to young people wishing to pursue their passion for horses. By contrast, much of Europe follows a stricter, more focused educational structure that culminates in a formal licensing system for those who move into industry careers – particularly for riding instructors and stable managers. One of the oldest and most recognizable of these systems is the British Horse Society (BHS). Founded in 1947 as a charitable organization, the BHS focuses on quality instruction and care for all horses through the training and development of educated equestrians.
Utilizing a curriculum based in classroom theory; lectures; and written instruction that is then applied directly to practical, hands-on demonstration and training in the stable, the BHS focuses on the skills necessary to be successful in dressage, cross-country and show jumping, with riders cross-trained in all three areas during the course of their study. Additionally, the stable management portion of the training focuses on the building blocks of horse care, including nutrition, equine anatomy and physiology, and first aid.
At each stage of their BHS training, students are given pass/fail examinations to chart their progress through the course’s rigorous standards. This ensures that those professionals who later earn their BHS qualifications are of the highest caliber. This certification also allows BHS graduates to earn their international trainers’ passport through the International Group for Equestrian Qualifications (IGEQ), a license that is recognized in more than 35 countries worldwide and opens a variety of career possibilities for license holders.
Thanks to Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, MA, aspiring young professionals in the United States no longer need to travel abroad to pursue education through the British Horse Society. Stoneleigh-Burnham School has been an approved BHS training center since 2012. It is the only middle and high school in the United States to offer this type of training to young riders.
Under the instruction of center director George Halkett—himself a graduate of the BHS training program and current International Senior Coach—Stoneleigh-Burnham students have the opportunity to begin their journey toward earning their international equestrian qualifications while earning their high school diploma at the first girls’ boarding school in New England to offer the competitive International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum to students. The equestrian center at Stoneleigh-Burnham further fosters students’ education with its herd of competitive school horses and facilities that boast two indoor arenas, a European-style derby field, and a cross-country field with courses from beginner novice to preliminary.
In 2023, Stoneleigh-Burnham will further expand its BHS training by opening up spots in the program to full-time students with the passion and desire to work toward their international trainers’ passport but who may not fit the mold of a typical boarding school student. This could be a recent high school graduate on a gap year or a student who wishes to work in the industry without going the path of a traditional four-year college degree. Housing and meal options are available on campus for these students and details are available for those who are interested by contacting program director George Halkett at email@example.com.