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Wilson College equestrian programs have 'something for everybody'

April 09, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Michelle Calka exercises Boomer April 4 in a riding barn at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., where she is a student in the equestrian program and the 16-year-old horse is a boarder.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The students enrolled in Wilson College’s nationally recognized equestrian programs often can be found in the dirtiest and smelliest learning environments on campus.

They prefer it that way.

“You’re physically working with horses and learning all about them,” said Lauren Kershner, an equine journalism major.

“Having the horses here makes it easier to be away from home,” said Rachael Myers, an equine facilitated therapeutics major.

Wilson College’s equine-related academic programs are among its most popular on campus and enroll 63 students. The school off U.S. 11 has the nation’s only college riding center for Pony Club and is one of five schools in the country with a four-year equine facilitated therapeutics program, which trains students to work with riders who have disabilities.

“We have really good facilities. We have some of the best facilities on the East Coast,” said John Tukey, director of equestrian studies.

Dotting the equestrian center’s 20 acres are three barns, two indoor arenas and a 150-foot-by-350-foot outdoor arena. The college has 33 schooling horses and 25 boarded horses supervised by barn manager Elizabeth Leary.

Both riders and nonriders are enrolled in the majors within the equestrian studies (which has equine management and equestrian management concentrations) and equine facilitated therapies programs. Classes range from barn management to horse reproduction and nutrition.

“We really have something for everybody,” Tukey said.

Students can receive under-saddle instruction in dressage, show jumping and eventing. Tukey said the college in recent years has brought in higher-quality, younger horses with more jumping ability for the 85 students who take lessons.

Tukey, who completed the highest level of Pony Club himself, described the Pony Club organization and its oral exams as good practice for meetings with potential employers.

“It’s a lot like mounted Scouts. It’s about being prepared and self-reliant,” he said.

Ann O’Shallie helped develop Wilson College’s equine facilitated therapeutics program a decade ago. She’s also traveled to places like Turkey, England, Greece and Germany to help form programs there benefiting people with intellectual, physical or behavioral issues.

“We’re trying, quite literally, to bring their disabled populations out of the closet,” she said of some impoverished countries’ efforts.

About 40 students are enrolled in equine facilitated therapeutics studies at Wilson College. O’Shallie described them as individuals with strong work ethics and a desire to give back to the community.

Myers started her college career as a psychology major and transferred into the equine facilitated therapeutics focus. She volunteers at the Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center and said she loves to see children smile when they ride.

“Eventually, I want to turn that into helping returning war veterans,” she said.

“I’d like to focus on autistic kids and troubled teens,” said Marissa Kosko-Blyler, who plans to obtain degrees in equine facilitated therapeutics and psychology.

Kosko-Blyler praised the atmosphere at the college.

“Everyone — they’re all here for you and they go out of their way to help you,” she said.

One-on-one instruction is coupled with a liberal arts education, Kosko-Blyler said.

“It’s one of a kind. You see people coming from all over because there’s no place like Wilson,” she said.

Kershner and fellow student C.J. Giacomini said they were looking for very specific programs and facilities for their own horses when they chose Wilson College.

Giacomini, who is coupling creative writing with her horse studies, used collegeboard.org to find Wilson College. Now, she participates in several extracurricular offerings, including mounted drill team and hunt seat, eventing, dressage and western activities.

Some students, like 19-year-old Stephanie Krzak, are hoping to become professional riders.

Georgia Kalmoutis wants to use an equine journalism education to write about clinics and events when she is not competing herself.

Allie Veach takes classes in both equestrian studies and elementary education. She hopes to work in a classroom during the school day, then teach riding lessons on evenings and weekends or host summer camps.

“I want to give the gift of horses that was given to me in first grade. At Wilson, I loved that I could do that” with a double major, Veach said.

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