Students at the athletics focused Bill Crothers Secondary School in Unionville are saddling up with a new equestrian team, thanks to the vision of a teacher who loves horses and a local stable that was willing to give this new concept a try.

The team was officially formed last fall and students have been bussed every other week since then for riding lessons at Country Hill Farm in Goodwood, which is operated by Kathy Fremes.

“The creation and planning of the team has been a dream and project of mine since we opened Bill Crothers Secondary School in 2008 and we were finally able to get it off the ground this past September,” says Nicole Lazier, the equestrian team coach and founder.

But as she discovered, finding a stable that met the requirements set out by the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA), which sets criteria provincially that school sports must meet, proved to be challenging.

“The hardest part was finding a barn. That was the biggest challenge,” says Lazier. “It took a lot of time and careful planning to line everything up, but Kathy was the key piece to actually have it realized and get it going. The barn was really the key factor in everything in order for the participation of the students to happen.”

To help Lazier narrow down her search for a stable, she looked to the Ontario Equestrian Federation’s Horse Facilities Advisory Council to find member stables that meet a minimum standard of rider and horse safety and equine care, as set out by the program.

“I approached Kathy in July to be the coach of the team and to have her facility to be the barn where our program would run because it met all the guidelines required for a school program to run,” says Lazier. “I knew her business practices were honest, professional and that she had a wonderful facility with sound, quiet horses that would be ideal for students to learn on. She also had many years of experience behind her as a coach and an excellent reputation as a coach in the community.”

While the number of riders varies depending on student schedules, there are about 20 riders ranging from beginner to advanced who come out ride.

“I’m honoured to be involved in it,” says Fremes. “These kind of pilot programs are excellent in introducing people to the sport.”

In addition to the time they spend in the saddle, the equestrian team meets weekly and is also active with lunch and learn educational sessions, guest speakers, social events and team building exercises. Lazier set the team up in such a way that riders who have their own horses but may not have time to ride with the team can still take part through activities outside the stable.

“The ultimate goal for kids who are beginner riders is just to give them the chance to explore riding and all that it offers,” she says. “For the advanced riders it gives them an opportunity to be part of the school environment – to give them a sense of belonging and a partnership with Bill Crothers Secondary School.”

While the equestrian team is still in its infancy, a schooling show is already being planned for the spring. Lazier dreams that, someday, the school teammight even compete on a show circuit.

“Is competition our end goal? Not really,” says Lazier. “It’s more to just instill the love of equestrian and expose them to the sport of equestrian as an Olympic sport, but also as a pleasure sport you can enjoy for life.”

To read more, please visit WHOA and read High School Students Horse Around