Thacher’s Horse Program is about so much more than learning to ride.

Tenacity, self-confidence, humility, patience, and so much more 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. Students are confronted with real work and real responsibility—day in and day out, rain or shine, they are expected to muck their horses’ stalls before class in the morning, learn and hone riding skills in the afternoon, and feed their horses every evening. Most have never ridden before.

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

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.

Horse Packing

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.

Extreme Cowboy

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.

Equestrian Team

Interested students can also trade in their Western tack to join the Equestrian Team, which competes every season in regional equitation competitions.


Much is made of learning to be independent when you go to boarding school or college. Here, you have that responsibility for yourself but also for another creature. It makes you even more capable in your later years at Thacher and also in college, grad school, and beyond.

Atlanta, Georgia

Horsing Around - Student Podcasts

Facilities Tour

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.