By Rachel Gobep
Youngstown State University students now have the opportunity to get out of the classroom, strap on their boots and step onto a farm through a new horseback riding class.
There are 14 students enrolled in the class held at Watkins Quarter Horses, a horse farm in Canfield.
Amy Watkins instructs the class on her farm and has coached the YSU equestrian team for six years. She said not only is the class helpful for the girls on the team but also for students in general.
There’s a variety of students in the class, from those who have never been around horses to students who have ridden their entire life.
Rick Higham, senior general studies major, said he has always been interested in horseback riding, but he only rode in guided trail rides.
“I started at ground zero, so I didn’t have any experience at all with horses,” Higham said.
He said he is most interested to see if he can handle a horse.
“I’m almost 200 pounds and the horse is 1,100 pounds, so physically there’s a big difference there, but when you take charge of that horse, and when you show him that you’re the alpha of the pack, they do listen.”
Stephanie Dessler, a senior biology pre-veterinary track major, said this is her third year on the equestrian team. She has been riding horses since she was about 7 years old.
She decided to take the horseback riding class as a way to continue riding in college.
“It’s hard for me to find time to ride my own horse and do barrel racing like I did, so this is a nice way to do that and continue to have fun,” Dessler said.
She said the class gives her the opportunity to help others learn about horses.
“For me, I’m very shy, so this is really pushing me, but it’s also something I need to break out of my shell,” Dessler said.
Students said their time on the farm gives them a break from their daily routine and a stress reliever.
“If you’re having a bad day, [when] you come out to the horse farm, you’ll forget about all your troubles,” Higham said.
Watkins said when students come to her farm, she can see the stress on their faces.
“By the time they leave, their body language is different,” she said. “They’re relaxed. They’re excited. They’re happy. They’re smiling.”
Watkins said horses are therapeutic.
“They are gentle giants,” she said. “They can teach you a lot about yourself.”
The students are in the classroom once a week, where they learn the basics of horse handling, and they receive hands-on training at the farm on Thursdays.
The basics include how to lead a horse, lunging, mounting, grooming and cleaning stalls. It’s then taken a step further with the opportunity to ride.
Watkins said the instructions are done with safety in mind.
“These are 1,200 pound animals,” she said. “They do have a mind of their own. It’s not like throwing a football or hitting somebody with a hockey stick.”
Watkins said she loves teaching the class and looks forward to it throughout the week.
The horseback riding class is offered through the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Science and is open to all YSU students.