Going to college is a huge time commitment, so bringing a horse along for the ride would seem like an unnecessary burden, but for some students, they couldn’t make it through school without their companion.
Natalie De Jongh, senior in wildlife ecology, brought her horse to Auburn her junior year because she wanted to see her more than just on holidays since she lived three hours away.
She got her horse, Alyss, when she was just a baby and currently rides her horse for fun.
“I got her when she was a couple months old, and I’ve had her ever since,” De Jong said. “We’re friends.”
At first, De Jongh had Alyss in pasture boarding, which is cheaper than most places but required a lot of work on De Jongh’s part.
“It didn’t require any help or taking care of her,” De Jongh said. “I was up there every morning and night, doing everything by myself. It was really stressful, and I was not sure if I could even do it anymore.”
She then moved her horse to a place where people could take care of Alyss for De Jongh, but it was expensive.
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“It’s a whole different rent, but I feel like it’s so worth it for me personally because I was getting so stressed because I was dealing with everything by myself and being up there at 6 a.m. and going straight to class, or when it was raining. I would get really worried about her,” she said. “Knowing that there are people taking care of her is taking a big weight off of my anxiety.”
With the new boarding for her horse, De Jongh has more time to go and see Alyss while still maintaining her academic life.
She makes an effort to visit Alyss at least three times a week.
“It’s been very nice to go out there and get rid of stress, be out there in the outdoors and be with her,” De Jongh said. “It helps with my anxiety, and I like having her around and being able to play with her.”
De Jongh said keeping a horse with you in college is not for everyone, considering that it is stressful and expensive.
“It can be very stressful, and you need to be sure that you have a good support system before bringing your horse up here,” De Jongh said. “You also need to be sure that you have an exit strategy, that you can send them back easily if it wasn’t working out.”
Savannah Valentine, junior in integrative biology, also brought her horses, Wildcard and Buddy, to college with her.
Valentine believes that working with her horses has helped her pick her field of study.
“I feel like having a horse and being involved with horses has brought out the more scientific side of myself,” Valentine said. “I’ve done a lot of things not the average person would do. I’ve sewn up a horse’s neck, I’ve witnessed horse eye surgeries and the other night, I’ve had to tube feed a calf. Had I have not done those things, I would have never picked something more scientific.”
Before college, Valentine trained Buddy for hunter jumper and participated in competitive riding.
However, she had to retire him because he had a heart murmur.
She got Wildcard in 2017 and has enjoyed simply riding rather than competing.
“I definitely could not live without them,” Valentine said. “I did not want to go back and forth from home to go see them and worry about how they’re doing because I am very hands on.”
Valentine keeps her horses at The Farm at Betsy’s, where she works for free boarding.
She helps ride the horses, feeds them, makes sure that all of the horses are healthy, checks on the fences and feeds the cows that are on the property.
She added that she does her school work at night or early in the morning. Valentine then works every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and she sees her horses those evenings and on the weekends.
Valentine agrees with De Jongh that her horses are a huge stress reliever.
“Horses are my escape,” Valentine said. “Whenever I’m out there, no matter what I’m doing, I feel like I’m on a separate island, totally disconnected from everything else.”
Kaitlyn Dendy, sophomore in organismal biology, brought up her horse, Bacardi, to continue her athletic career on the the Eventing Team.
Dendy has been riding since she was 5 years old and has been a competitive rider ever since.
“I knew Auburn would offer me what I would need to be a successful equestrian and to be the best rider I could be,” Dendy said.
Dendy keeps Bacardi at Silver Linings Equestrian and spends most of her mornings at the barn with him to train.
She schedules most of her classes during the evenings so she can be with Bacardi in the mornings and work on homework during the afternoon.
“It’s important to schedule ahead of time and know when to ride,” Dendy said. “I like to keep everything consistent so that I am on a schedule. It takes a lot of planning, but it is so worth it.”
Dendy believes horse owners have to give their animals the time they deserve.
“It wouldn’t be too nice to them to bring them down here and not spend as much time with them as you should,” Dendy said. “It’s important to keep that a priority.”
Because of this priority, Dendy can’t study abroad or take long vacations in case her horse gets sick or needs something.
All in all, even though there are many differences in boarding, lifestyle, types of training and types of riding, most horse owners at Auburn seem to agree on the fact that horses help relieve stress.
When Dendy is on the back of her horse, she can forget about all of her life stressors.
“I would not be able to come to Auburn if I did not have my horse,” she said. “I see him every single day, I ride six days a week to train, and I remember telling someone how much I do, and they said, ‘Oh, that must be a lot.’ But I honestly couldn’t do it without my horse.”
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