A Chocolate Chip Cookie Weekend

Dressage at St. Andrews
Dressage at St. Andrews

St. Andrews is honored to be hosting a clinic for their Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) regional members, Jan 27 & 28 at the Equestrian Center. Gwyneth McPherson from Maine is traveling to Laurinburg to spend the weekend with riders and coaches who usually only get together to compete against one another. Some come from schools with equine studies programs and others from schools where riding is a club sport.

Gwyneth has trained with Lendon Gray, Carol Lavell and Michael Poulin and enjoys sharing her knowledge with riders of all levels. The clinic was one of two given to IDA for its members by Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine (pineland.org) as part of their mission to provide education that enriches the community. In this case the community reaches to North Carolina. California IDA members were the recipients of the other clinic and Gwyneth has already made the trip out west.

Riders from Averett University, Longwood University, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University will be joining St. Andrews students to ride with Gwyneth. Wake Forest is traveling with five of their horses but the other schools will be riding horses provided by St. Andrews. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to work together in a non-competitive setting,” said St. Andrews Dressage Coach Jackie Dwelle. “We have the riders scheduled by level with 2 riders in each group. This will give Gwyneth time to help each individual as well as teach to the group.”

At lunch time on Saturday we will be going to campus for a theory session over the lunch break. Two days are not enough time for everyone to ride with Gwyneth but the theory session will allow everyone time to interact directly with her and ask any questions they may have.

The generosity of Pineland Farms and of Gwyneth herself for taking the time out of her busy schedule is a wonderful gift to IDA members.

“The mission of IDA is to introduce students to the equestrian discipline of dressage and to foster continued development, understanding and appreciation in the art of dressage through organized student competitions and educational opportunities. IDA’s main functions are to promote the sport of dressage and to establish and enforce IDA rules and policies.” (teamdressage.com) The two organizations do seem to come together with their desire to educate and enrich their communities.

Having Fun with IDA
Having Fun with IDA

IDA is administered by volunteers who are usually coaches, staff or faculty at the member universities. Some of the equestrian clubs are supported by dressage professionals who simply wish to encourage young people to enjoy the sport. The willingness of people to give back to a sport they love, to share their passion for it and to provide opportunities for others to learn and flourish is what separates the true lovers of the sport from everyone else.

This weekend there will be a mix of people attending who are all connected with an institution of higher education in one way or another. Full-time employees, part-time employees, instructors paid by the hour, instructors who donate their time, student coaches and riders and probably a few curious St. Andrews students who are not dressage team members, but want to see what all the fuss is about for dressage, will be in attendance. Each person is passionate in their own way and for their own reasons.

For me it is like the ingredients to a batch of chocolate cookies that you can’t stop eating. You have the behind the scenes folks who prepare the ingredients by measuring, sieving and chopping. These are the students who groom, exercise and prepare the horses. The facility people who mow the grass, drag the arenas and clean the stalls are part of the preparation as are the barn managers who care of the horses every day. To make cookies you have to mix the ingredients, this is the organizing of schedules, reservations for flights and hotels and catering arrangements. The team leaders mix all the ingredients together to produce a dough that is oven ready. The oven is the magic part. In goes the raw dough and out comes warm, sweet, slightly gooey (if you did it right), delightful cookies with chocolate chips melting all over.

The magic part of intercollegiate sport is the many hours spent between meeting the raw recruits, to the moment when they walk across the stage to collect their diploma having worked, tried, failed, started over (more than once probably), struggled, found a different way and shown their resilience and grit in all situations as perfectly cooked graduates. The students that were athletes or equestrians are the result of making many batches of chocolate chip cookies. They have been thoroughly tried, tweaked and tested to earn their bachelor’s degree and are ready to take on the world. They are ready to share their passions with others for no greater reason than the fact that they can.

Our weekend is just one small step in that process. St. Andrews students will be refining their skills of being good hosts and making the visitors feel welcome – we are in the south after all. All participants will be practicing their social skills in a slightly different environment than they are used to. Everyone will be learning a new approach to a sport they love and getting to know one another a little bit better. At the end of the weekend folks should have strengthened their social networks, learnt more about human nature and hopefully learned a thing or two about the sport of dressage.

Then there is the biggest lesson of all, learning more about yourself. There will no doubt be moments that are awkward or difficult. Someone will behave in an unexpected way that will push students to dig deeper to find a solution, be empathetic or simply step back and observe. Can equine related intercollegiate sports do all this? I argue with a resounding yes! Just like that batch of the best ever chocolate chip cookies, it takes practice for all the ingredients to be weighed, mixed and carefully baked for cookie perfection.

This is why parents send their children to college. This is what produces people with integrity and resilience. I teach in the classroom as well and do not wish to undermine the importance of traditional learning. Learning theories, concepts, and history, working on ethical dilemmas and developing critical thinking skills are all essential. I would argue that putting some of this into practice on a regular basis is truly what develops people’s ability to understand and influence their world. Adding the right amount of chocolate chips to the recipe makes the difference between plain sugar cookies and deluxe chocolate chip cookies.

This upcoming weekend where football fans are resting between their playoff parties and the Super Bowl extravaganza, we will be at the equestrian center soaking up life’s lessons because a few people have chosen to give of their time, their skills and their love of a sport to help college students on their journey to become the best chocolate chip cookies they can be.

Many thanks to Gwyneth McPherson, Pineland Farms, the Board of Directors of IDA, the many volunteers that keep IDA running year to year, the team coaches and supporters for being the ingredients in this batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Finally, I do not wish to forget the real reason all these folks come together with a common cause. Without our horses we would not be having this gathering and exchange of knowledge and ideas. Without our horses we may not be the disciplined, responsible people that we are with the ability to share our lives and talents. Without our horses I would never write a blog post comparing collegiate riders to chocolate chip cookies!

Happy Horse Keeping!

Photos by Rooney Coffman

St. Andrews Equestrian Program is dedicated to the development of future leaders in the equine industry. The program is home to the 2016 and 2017 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Champions in Western Horsemanship. The Hunter Seat team is regularly represented at IHSA Nationals and the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) team has sent riders to the National Championships nearly every year since 2002. Students also ride at USHJA and USEF rated shows as well as attending schooling shows.

A small liberal arts and sciences university, St. Andrews majors include Business, Biology and Therapeutic Horsemanship.

Click here to request more information about St. Andrews University and the Equestrian program.


One Reply to “A Chocolate Chip Cookie Weekend”

  1. I can’t wait for this amazing opportunity to grow and learn as a collegiate equestrian! Thank you to our coaches, our horses, IDA, Pineland Farms, and Gwyneth McPherson for making this possible!
    – Alex Varisco, St. Andrews University Equestrian ’18

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