TALES FROM THE TRAILS
Riding and showing horses is expensive. Some are lucky enough to find ways to afford it, and some only watch and wish. The Oxbridge Academy, a private high school on Military Trail in West Palm Beach, has made the dream of riding and showing possible for its students.
“We surveyed our students in June 2014 to find out what athletic offerings interested them,” Athletics Director Craig Sponsky said. “There was a large interest in equestrian sports, so we decided to look into it. It took a little while to organize.”
Along the way, they found Heidi Lengyel of Wall Street Farm, who was already involved with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, which seemed like it would be a great entry into the sport.
“Heidi and her husband, Steve, are great people; very easy to get along with. Their barn is centrally located and easy for our students to get to,” Sponsky said. “We also liked the variety of disciplines: hunters, jumpers, dressage, and even polo at a nearby barn. They start with the basics and move right up through more advanced skills. It gave our students a lot of opportunities to learn and grow.”
Sponsky offered riding as an after-school club sport, and about two dozen enthusiastic students signed up. The riding began in January. Students are bused to the farm in suburban Boynton Beach every Wednesday afternoon after school and ride in group lessons. They can either ride the bus back to school or carpool rides home. They also have the opportunity to ride Saturday mornings, but have to organize their own transportation.
Oxbridge provides the helmets and pays a significant percentage of the fees, making it very affordable. Once participants start showing with the IEA next year, the school will also provide show clothes.
“This whole experience has been very positive,” Sponsky said. “The students are extremely happy. We’ve had no complaints or concerns, which is quite unique. Riding opens up a whole new field they can pursue in college and throughout their lives. How many children get to say they learned to ride a horse through their school? It’s an absolute win-win situation.”
Jhadha King, 16, started riding with the Oxbridge team in January. Her friends signed up, and she went right along.
“It sounded like an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I like the unity of it all, meeting new people and learning from them and from the horses. I’ve just started cantering a little, and I’m still working on changing my diagonals when posting. It’s so much fun! I’ve also started trotting over poles on the ground in a half-seat.”
King has also found her favorite horses.
“Tristan is really tall, which fits my long legs, and he’s sweet and mellow. Webster has a really smooth canter,” she said. “Heidi is a great teacher. She always reminds me not to look down, or I’ll end up on the ground. I’m going to try to keep riding over the summer with a small group of my friends. Next year, I hope I’ll be good enough to compete in the IEA shows. Riding teaches you a lot of things, like having patience with yourself as you learn and with the horse. You have to roll with the punches. I’ve really developed a true love for this sport. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Taylor Medeiros, 17, will be a senior. She started riding at age 5, on and off. She rides with the Oxbridge team and also takes private lessons on the side. She is currently cantering cross rails.
“This has been my best riding experience,” she said. “It has taught me not just about riding, but also the responsibility of caring for a horse. I love all the horses equally, but Jazzy is the most fun. She’s easy and a good jumper.”
Medeiros also hopes to ride at the IEA show next year. “I’m planning to show with the IHSA in college. I’d like to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, and I’m working on getting my own horse,” she said. “Boarding costs so much that my family might move to an area where we can have some land and keep her in the back yard. The Oxbridge Equestrian Team is an incredible opportunity. Everything with horses is so expensive; this is a great way to level the playing field so anyone can learn to ride and show. This program helps people find a passion they never had before.”
Lilli Markel, 15, will be a sophomore next year. She had done some riding at a summer camp in North Carolina and was excited when the club started at Oxbridge. “The program is awesome,” she said. “It’s amazing. I love being around the horses. I’m learning so much. I’m working on cantering all the way around the ring; it’s sometimes hard for me to keep my balance. I tend to lean out around the turns.
Markel is currently looking forward to starting to jump over cross rails, even though it’s a little scary.
“I fell off when I was little, so I’m building up my confidence,” she said. “I’m not sure about showing. I’m not a very competitive person. I prefer riding as a hobby. I like being with the horses. I’m thinking about maybe being an equine chiropractor. It’s really cool working with such big animals. I’m grateful that my school gives us the opportunity to do this.”