The Riding Life
Ninth graders are paired with a horse the first week of school and required to ride for the entire school year. New sophomores and juniors choose one athletic season their first year to participate in the Horse Program. Either way, students are learning a new language, one where a nuanced approach, the just-right application of pressure, and forward thinking are essential as they learn to communicate and work together with their horse. Students find themselves right at the edge of just-challenging-enough, where their achievements are hard-won but still within reach. From participating in organized riding lessons at the start to creating their own training regimen as they prepare to compete in the Big Gymkhana in the spring, students learn at the pace that’s right for them.
For many, fulfilling these requirements is just the beginning—they go on to spend multiple seasons on horseback.
Big Gymkhana is one of Thacher’s central traditions, drawing hundreds of current Thacher families, alumni, and visitors to the School every year. Ninth graders and many upperclassmen compete on teams in all sorts of horse races: barrels and poles, the rescue race, ring spearing, even the notoriously-difficult Silver Dollar Pick-up. It’s the culmination of all the hard work the riders have put in throughout the year.
Every student takes off for a weekend horse packing trip during their first year. Led by seasoned High Sierra packers, students learn the proper knots, techniques, and safety protocols for packing a horse or burro during a multi-night trail ride in the Los Padres National Forest behind the School. Students can also choose to go horse camping during fall and spring Extra-Day Trips, as well as take advantage of other weekend trips throughout the year.
Students in recent years have taken their Western riding skills to the competitive level, participating in Extreme Cowboy competitions in California and beyond. Talented riders test their skill, agility, and speed; a number have gone on to secure World Championship titles.
Interested students can also trade in their Western tack to join the Equestrian Team, which competes every season in regional equitation competitions.