Thacher’s Horse Program is about so much more than learning to ride.
Tenacity and self-confidence are gained as students face the challenge of a new riding technique or a stubborn horse and take full responsibility for the animal’s care, no matter the day of the week or the weather outside. The Thacher herd is also an essential partner in our adventures—mountain trail rides and overnight horse-packing trips are all part of the experience.
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The program began for a practical reason: Mr. Thacher’s boys needed transportation to town. It was a seven-mile trip and in the late 19th century horses were the only mode available. What our founder discovered early on was that “there’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a boy.”
The Riding Life
The Horse Program finds many students right at the edge of just-challenging-enough, where their achievements are hard-won but still within reach. Every freshman spends their first year waking early to muck their horse’s stall before class, feeding him in the morning and evening, and riding in the afternoon. New sophomores and juniors do the same for one athletic season of their choice. 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.
And speaking of Big Gymkhana—it’s one of Thacher’s central traditions, drawing hundreds of current Thacher families, alumni, and visitors to the School. Freshmen and many upperclassmen compete on teams in all sorts of horse races: barrels and poles, the rescue race, even the Silver Dollar Pick-up. It’s the culmination of all the hard work the riders have put in throughout the year, but especially during the spring season.
Every freshman takes off for a weekend horse packing trip during his or her first year at Thacher. The program is directed by a seasoned High Sierra packer, teaching students the proper knots, techniques, and safety protocol for packing a horse or burro for a multi-night trail ride in the Los Padres National Forest behind the School. The dedicated horse packing station in the barns is the launching pad for many trips beyond this initial freshman requirement. Interested students can 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 of students have gone on to secure World Championship titles.