One Big Family: Garrison Forest School’s Equestrian Institute

Caroline D. ’23, Sophia B. ’28 and Grayson F. ’23 enjoying a walk in the field after their lessons. Photo courtesy of Garrison Forest School.

BY April Bilodeau

From the magazine

Original. Educational. Elevated. This is the Equestrian Institute (EI) program at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills, MD. Founded in 1910, Garrison Forest is an all-girls, independent, private boarding and day school set on 110 acres just outside of Baltimore. Students range from kindergarten through 12th grade.

While education is at the forefront of student life at Garrison Forest, the school is also well- known for their equestrian program. The EI is designed to provide equestrian athletes a chance to pair their day-to-day educational obligations with riding.

“The Equestrian Institute is different in that it is part of the curriculum for these riders,” Rick Harris, director of riding at Garrison Forest School, tells The Plaid Horse. “All of the lessons are private and during the school day.”

The program is designed for competitive athletes who not only want to progress as riders, but also to gain horsemanship skills. Students become eligible to apply for the program in the 6th grade.

“This program offers so many benefits outside of riding,” says Harris. “Our students learn about accountability, time management, collaboration, and resilience. These are all skills that will serve them well as they continue their journey, both in and outside of the ring.”

A view of the Garrison Forest Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of Garrison Forest School.

EI at a Glance

In the EI program, riders receive one-on-one attention as well as the opportunity to horse show during the school year.

While the full program for the EI includes some of the regular basics such as board, a training ride, and three lessons per week, additional amenities include several weeks of winter circuit showing, mandatory field trips and speaker opportunities, approved tutors, and excused absences from school for students attending horse shows. The program also requires that students compete in a minimum of one horse show per month.

For the athlete looking to work in exchange for some of the added expenses such as additional horse show day care and coaching, the school offers the opportunity for students to work off these costs on a first come, first serve basis.

A Committed Staff

Among the program’s student athletes is rising tenth grader Molly Stout.

“I joined this program because it allows me to ride and be at the barn more than ever before, and there are learning opportunities outside of just riding,” says Stout. “The program is super organized, and I can fit riding into my school day. The EI also has opportunities to show more often and at ‘A’ shows.”

While it can be challenging for some young equestrians to balance school and their riding careers, Garrison Forest ensures that each member of the staff is understanding of the commitment that comes with being an equestrian athlete. Students of the program compete
both locally and nationally, all year round.

Completing schoolwork with Kaitlyn B. ’25 at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, FL. Photo courtesy of Garrison Forest School.

“The school supports the program, including my teachers,” says Stout. “This program allows my teammates to also be my classmates and creates strong bonds among the riders.”

“A favorite memory is probably taking Kathryn Obrecht, ‘21, to the NHS finals,” says Harris. “She rode at GFS from Lower School through her graduation and was in the first group of riders to join the Equestrian Institute (EI).”

Other students have gone on to compete in Ocala, FL, HITS Vermont, Tryon, and Pony Finals, among other top shows.

Supporting All Riders

Madeline Mohn, a rising senior, grew up riding as an eventer and joined the EI two years ago.

“I joined the program because I wanted to be able to continue to ride in college,” says Mohn. “To get there, I saw the need to ride more frequently, so I decided to start riding at Garrison and joined the Equestrian Institute.”

Mohn has spent time on the road with Garrison Forest, competing successfully at shows in Ocala, FL, and Tryon. With the assistance of the hands-on coaches in the EI, Mohn has progressed in her riding and will be competing in the High Children’s Jumpers this year.

Madeline M. ’24 showing her horse, Caracas. Photo courtesy of Garrison Forest School.

“This program is a great fit for me because my coaches really know how to accommodate people of all skill levels and different equestrian backgrounds,” says Mohn. “When I joined the Equestrian Institute, I had just moved from an eventing barn, and I had no clue what the hunter/equitation/jumper world was like. With the help of my trainers and their pushing me to do my best, I became who I am today. I now have experience in all three rings, but what is most important is that I am challenged every day to do things I never thought I would be able to do.”

Building Relationships

While students have had success in the show arena, one common theme among students is the family environment that Garrison Forest provides. Students in the EI program are treated with kindness and support not only as riders, but as young women.

“A big benefit of this program is the relationship these riders develop with their horses and trainers,” says Harris. “Riding is about personal relationships; the traveling and field trips we do helps students develop their skills as horsewomen, not just riders.”

To learn more about Garrison Forest School and the Equestrian Institute, visit