Hudson’s Hope School is celebrating a new semester of its natural horsemanship program after being on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The class meets three days a week at the local riding arena, enriching student education by letting them go at their own pace. While she's not an official instructor, teacher Caroline Beam facilitates the program with direction from professional trainer Glenn Stewart, sending in video clips so Stewart can assess the progress of students.
“What I've found over that years is that assertiveness is a huge learning curve, especially now that the horses have gotten used to the program, they know what to do, but they also know how to get out of it,” she said. “One of the challenges in the program is matching the kids to the horses.”
Stewart has more than 30 years of experience in the horse industry and has taught thousands of students in both North and South America. He lives just outside of Fort St. John and runs The Horse Ranch from his home in Baldonnel.
“He is teaching you to work with your horse, but the more important things that he’s teaching you is to use your body language properly, to have feeling and timing, to control yourself. It's understanding that you can focus on a goal and achieve it, if you set out your steps properly. That’s the stuff these kids are going to bring beyond the horse part of their lives,” said Beam.
Beam comes from a family of guides and outfitters well versed in ranch life, and remains passionate about helping students learn to work with horses. She noted everyone in this year’s class brings some level of prior experience to the arena.
“This the first time I’ve had everyone entering the program having ridden a horse before, there’s always been someone that’s been thrown in because it was good for their psyche,” she said, adding students are excited about honing their skills.
Grade 7 student Joe Hart says the program has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and loves the rural recreational activities offered in the north after moving from Kelowna. He’s been riding for just over two years now.
“I think it’s a fantastic program, just getting to be with the horses and being able to gain the trust of one of them,” he said. "When you come here in the mornings and they walk towards you, it’s a really great feeling."
Fellow student and rider Robin Haagsman grew up on a farm in Beryl Prairie, and says the program has been invaluable, even with his agricultural background.
“I’ve learned a lot about horses, and I’ve learned a lot about myself, building the bond here with Jazz has been a really positive experience,” said Haagsman. “I’ve been riding horses since I could walk, and I work as a ranch hand for my dad.”
Equine programs have been a staple of the school since 2014, beginning with a horse handling course and eventually evolving into the long-running horsemanship program, which offers full credits for students.
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News