The horse school at Richmond Vale Academy (RVA), which catered primarily for international clients, is welcoming local students, thanks to sponsorship from Tus-T Water.
With the sponsorship, RVA, whose curriculum focuses on sustainable livelihoods, has been able to recruit a Vincentian horse trainer as well as welcome local students.
The new trainer is Tishorn Edwards, who has over the past 10 years, learned the skill from RVA director, Stina Herberg, an experienced horse handler whose skills have been featured in Equestrian, an international magazine that focuses on horses.
Edwards obtained his own horses but continued to be connected to the RVA horse programme.
RVA has six horses and focuses on teaching children about caring for and handling horses in a holistic manner.
The children are taught horse nutrition as well as hoof care, grooming, handling, understanding horse anatomy, tack, kindness, how to behave around horses and also basic riding skills.
To enrol, students must first apply and try a first time lesson during which they are evaluated for admission into a 10-lesson basic course, five of which involve learning to ride a horse.
The school will be open every Saturday and has a special introductory offer, with lessons lasting 40 minutes.
Children must bring at least one parent when attending classes.
RVA also has a programme where students can work to earn for lessons.
The work includes cutting grass, collecting manure or other kind of barn work.
In 2007, a herd of horses that needed a new home were brought to RVA. They included mares, gelding and a stallion, ages 2 to 20 years old.
However, because many of the horses in St. Vincent are related, RVA did not breed the horses, but still has four of the original stock.
The RVA horses have mainly been used for an annual fundraising event where Herberg teaches the language of horses, body language communication, focus, leadership and team work — “through the way of the horse”.
“Because we now can work together on a more regular basis, it is possible that youths from St. Vincent can come and learn more about horses and also to ride them,” said Herberg, who has taught the language of horses in several countries and has been featured in many magazines.
Herberg said that learning to handle horses is a useful skill, especially in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with its ecotourism potential.
She however, cautioned that it a very long journey to offering any kind of ecotourism activities that involves riding horses.
“Learning to train a horses takes a long time and it also takes a long time for a horse to become strong and willing and safe to give trail rides. Further, it is costly because of equipment, tack and veterinary needs,” she said.
“However, RVA’s programme is a first step along that journey.”
She said that while it could take up to five years for a handler to develop the skills needed to offer a horse-related ecotourism experience, RVA has successfully taken tourists on walks with horses through the rainforest.
“Tourists have been absolutely astonished by this experience,” Herberg said.