Va. school offers equestrian classes

Eight students sign up for credit course at Hampton University

January 06, 2002|By Miriam Stawowy | Miriam Stawowy,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HAMPTON, Va. -- Since the summer, Patricia Bishop and her four hoofed companions have known only the solitude of the breeze and murmur coming off the waters of Hampton Roads.

"It's me, the horses and my country music," said Bishop, Hampton University's stable manager.

Starting this month, the waterfront stable will get more frequent visits when a small group of students begins to learn the basics of horsemanship as part of a new course being offered at the university.

The Western Equestrian class will teach students horse riding for recreation and will include learning about proper care, handling and feeding of horses.

A group of eight students filled all the slots available for the credit course, which fulfills part of the university's physical education requirements.

When Hampton University senior Michele Lawrence saw fliers posted around campus announcing the new class, she immediately thought about signing up, but like many students, she was too late. More than 20 students are on a waiting list for the course.

`Another nice novelty'

"It's another nice novelty at Hampton University," Lawrence said. "It's one of the perks we have here. It's something different."

That is the kind of course Hampton University President William Harvey had in mind when he thought of an equestrian program.

"It's a full program, not one designed to just have fun and ride," Harvey said. "It's a legitimate, all-encompassing course."

Besides the hands-on aspect of the course, students will learn about horse breeds and types, and will be required to read fiction and nonfiction books about horses, as well as pass a final exam, Harvey said.

Like tennis and golf, horse riding allows students to learn about a sport that can also be a handy tool in the business world, Harvey added. Backgrounds in such activities can open doors to influential circles.

Not many historically black universities like Hampton offer an equestrian program. Hampton University is the only one to offer sports like sailing. Harvey said his plans include expanding the equestrian offering to more students. There's a plan to build an indoor arena to continue classes during bad weather, and a chance that the university could offer a degree in horsemanship, he said.

`A wonderful opportunity'

Another possibility involves opening the program to the community. Harvey said he hopes children in the area, as part of a reading program called Read to Ride, could ride the university's horses.

The university's stable is at the entrance of the campus' 26-acre expanse next to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel known as Strawberry Banks. The university purchased the property in 2000 for $9.5 million. One fenced pasture encloses the program's four quarter horses, three of which belong to Hampton University and one, called Pirate, belongs to Harvey.

Gene Clabes, an adjunct journalism professor at Hampton University who owns a horse farm in northern Kentucky, sold the horses for the program and prepared the curriculum.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the university," Clabes said. "Certainly it's going to be unique for the East Coast and especially" at historically black colleges and universities.

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