Kicking Up Their Heels

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
As Ed Sullivan would say, it was, as it always is, a “really, reallybig shew”—by which we mean  Big Gymkhana of spring’s annual Family Weekend.
As Ed Sullivan would say, it was, as it always is, a “really, really big shew”—by which we mean Big Gymkhana of spring’s annual Family Weekend.

Going into the final events of an 8-week season, the riding competition (the jewel in the crown of the weekend) was the tightest most could recall, with a teensy three points separating first place Green—with 7225, captained by Hector Villanueva, Sondra Oxley, and Sean Wyatt, and defending a several-year winning streak—from second place Blue—at 7222, with Jeffrey Chen, Ellie Wilkinson, and Annie Mulligan leading the charge. (Orange, led by Kendra Carter, Leandra Cooper, and Anne Turner, was behind in points—with 4309—but undeniably first in a couple of other important ways: they had more jugglers than any other team, they were the first ever inspired on the field by the words of Scottish resistance leader William Wallace, and they used an intimidating chant of “Orange Crush, Orange Crush” at the start of each practice gymkhana.)

But whatever color his or her bandana, every rider knew that in the two culminating days of competition, victory was up for grabs, since by tradition, points are tripled on those days. So it was by “locating the nexus of speed and control”— Director of the Horse Program Cam Schryver’s way of explaining the most effective way to run a race—amping up the speed a tetch, and scraping every possible point together (beyond the gymkhana races there’s also trail course, cow sorting, English on the flat and over fences, and credit for the cleanest corrals and barn areas) that each team took on the final, nail-biting hours.

Nine speed events later—Keyhole, Birangle, Cloverleaf and Speed Barrels, Hurry Scurry, Figure 8 Stake, SpeedBall, Single Stake, Ribbon, and Rescue Race, as well as Sack, Ring-Spearing, and the Silver Dollar pick-up (the successful trio—Patrick Teague, Charlie Sun, and Alec Grushkin—fittingly represented all three teams)—the dust settled, and the points were tallied. Blue had bested Green, by grit and by golly—despite Green’s having won the lion’s share of the Top Ten slots, including #1, #2, and #4.

Of course, while this weekend is centered around gymkhana, it’s also a time for reconnecting with family and friends, for performances (on Friday night, Chamber Singers, Dance Ensemble, the Thacher Masquers, and the Band with No Name; on Saturday, rock climbing), for exhibitions (studio art, wood design, and photography in the Commons Gallery), for sideline cheering (baseball, girls’ lacrosse) and mixing it up on the tennis court and trapshooting range—and for ogling, strategizing, and bidding at the Parents’ Auction between bites of barbecued tri-tip and fresh strawberry shortcake. This year’s was a humdinger, the year-long effort of Stephanie Orr (mom of Nick ’10) and her able team on display in the Hoyt Gymnasium and patio.

Drawings for faculty and staff gift and travel packages, the Smart Car and Casa Elar raffles, the silent and live auctions—all of it trumpeted the generosity of hundreds of Thacher stalwarts whose combined gifts of time, energy, and resources go a very long way in supporting Thacher’s programs. It was a spirit that carried on through the evening and into the next morning’s ecumenical chapel service, which included a fittingly affirmational address by Erin Stewart (mother of Moizee ’08) entitled “The Power of Yes!” Listening and looking westward, down to and across the Ojai Valley, all couldn’t help but feel it: a perfect morning had broken. (“Blackbird had spoken” replaced, of course, by horses whinnying their song from the barns below.)

As announced at the Awards ceremony:
Top Ten Overall for the 2008 Season
1     Sondra Oxley on Sundance
2     Sean Wyatt on Podoco
3     Avery Hellman on Lady
4     Mary Ellen Funke on Chocolate
5     Kyle Griffith on Tiger
6     Annie Mulligan on Guerrero
7     Wohona Delgadillo on Katie Ann
8     Jane Fisher on Moonshine
9     Chris Colson on MsSinStar
10    Laura Benard on Jed

Top Ten Freshmen for the 2008 Season
1     Avery Hellman
2     Mary Ellen Funke
3     Kyle Griffith
4     Chris Colson
5     Steffi Star on Sioux
6     Graham Abbey on Dave
7     Jack Sligh on Moped
8     Lili Pike on Joey
9     Dan Hu on Paddy
10    Will Callan on Charlie

Big Gymkhana High Points (accrued on May 10, 2008)
1  Sondra Oxley
2  Sean Wyatt
3  Mary Ellen Funke
4  Avery Hellman
5  Annie Mulligan
6  Robbie Yeagle
7  Lili Pike
8  Will Callan
9  Marquis Warren
10 Graham Abbey

Winners of the Perpetual Silver Bridles, handed down each year from one rider to another, for exceptional work in the Horse Program: Laura Benard and Hector Villanueva.

Photography: Timothy Teague, Anna Teague CdeP 2007, Joy Sawyer-Mulligan


More About Thacher

Interested in learning more about Thacher? Sign up for a virtual visit here.
Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.