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Is Equestrian Boarding School Right for You?

Chatham Hall equestrian boarding school and riding program
Photo courtesy Chatham Hall

You may have heard of equestrian boarding school, or even thought about going. Living full-time surrounded by horses and friends can sound like a dream! Boarding school offers a unique opportunity for high school students to learn about life and improve riding skills away from home.

Hannah Summerlin, a recent graduate of Chatham Hall boarding school for grades 9-12 in Chatham, Va., says that before coming there, she couldn’t ride much due to time constraints. At school, riding was built into her day, so she was always guaranteed the chance to be in the saddle.

Riding Skills

At an equestrian boarding school, there tends to be huge growth in riders’ abilities because of the regularity and frequency that they work on their skills each week. Hannah says her experience in Chatham Hall’s riding program taught her things such as resilience and patience.

“And that I don’t have to be alone, I have a team behind me,” she says.

In our riding program at Chatham Hall, students spend five days a week with their coaches at the barn, allowing time to go in depth on one small topic or area of interest. Using different exercises, students can hone one crucial element of their position.

For example, we might spend a whole week focusing on just the rider’s hands and their effect on the horse. Hannah remembers many challenging lessons and difficult exercises and how she accomplished more in her riding than she ever thought possible.

As with most equestrian boarding schools, Chatham Hall owns many different horses and ponies, meaning that students can be successful even without having their own horse. In fact, most of our students ride the school horses, and they find that this teaches them how to adapt their own riding to each individual horse.

A student grooms a horse
Students groom and tack the horses in the riding program, which takes place daily from Monday through Friday. Photo courtesy Chatham Hall

This is beneficial when it comes to competing in Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) shows as a high schooler and being successful competing on college teams later on. Hannah notes how important the team atmosphere of IEA became to her.

“We learn a lot about one another, so while we are individuals when it comes to our classes in the show ring, we are a team, because without the team we would not have gotten to the ring in the first place,” she says.

Leadership Skills

IEA is not the only way to be a part of a team, however. The entire riding program works as one big team. Student riders are responsible for grooming and tacking up their own horse each day, taking care of their tack after their ride, and working together to turn the horses out and to clean up the barn.

Hannah says that no matter what, the group must learn how to work as a team to get everything done.

“Riding allowed me to be a leader in my own way,” she says. Hannah realized through her example of hard work that she had become a leader to those around her.

As coaches, we see all our students become leaders. No matter how timid or quiet they feel as first-years, they gain the confidence to lead both in and out of the barn.

Time Management

Heading to college often feels like a huge step, and there may not be a lot of help for students to find their way. Riders at boarding school have already learned how to balance academics and riding commitments, and how to have time for both.

Hannah remembers quickly figuring out how to use her time wisely during her sophomore year: “There was no other option if I wanted to get everything done!”

We help our new riders understand how to do this, such as where to fit in more time for studies during the week in order to allow them to travel to a show on the weekends, and we help them establish good studying skills. We take time to set goals with our students and benchmarks for accomplishing them. Doing this allows our riders to take ownership of their own riding and focus on achieving skills and milestones that are important to them.

“While at Chatham Hall, I’ve had opportunities to ride horses that I would never have otherwise ridden, and to try exercises I wasn’t sure I could do,” says Hannah.

Equestrian boarding school can be a big step for students and often it feels like you might lose the “barn family” that you have at home. However, boarding school riding programs offer a new type of barn family, where teamwork and dedication are the most important elements.

Leadership, responsibility, and strong riding skills are all things that students will get to experience at an equestrian boarding school like Chatham Hall. To learn more, visit

This article about equestrian boarding school appeared in the August 2021 Mini Digital issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Frankie Beyer


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