Lexi Langset, an 18-year-old champion barrel racer, said the Langley Equestrian Academy allowed her to keep up her studies and take part in the 2017 “Teens & Oregon Mustangs” competition at the same time.
An event that gives riders 100 days to train a wild mustang so it can be ridden and adopted, the American competition required long hours that would have made it hard to attend regular classes, Langset said.
“I had to put a lot of time into training her [the mustang],” Langset said.
Under the Academy approach that allows students to juggle school attendance so long as they keep up with their studies, Langset was able to vary her classroom hours, study online and even text her teachers questions, while she was working with her horse.
She went on to place third in her category, becoming the first and so far only Canadian to enter the Oregon competition.
“It’s [the Academy] given me a lot of time,” Langset said.
For three years, the Academy, operated by the Langley School District, has been offering a flexible study program so young riders don’t have to choose between horses and good grades.
Eileen Jonker, the teacher who runs the academy, said that kind of dilemma is not unusual in Langley, often referred to as the “horse capital of B.C.” because of the high numbers of riders.
Jonker said the program was created because otherwise bright students were falling behind in school when they tried to balance training and competition with school schedules.
“We try to utilize a lot of different learning and teaching techniques so these kids can find a passion, not only in their horse pursuits, but their education as well,” Jonker said.
With a motto of “passion, growth and courage,” the Academy program offers a flexible mix of regular classroom and equestrian-related courses for middle and secondary school students.
Student Emma May, a 15-year-old competitive rider from Langley, said the “amazing” academy approach meant she could take four weeks off to compete in California, so long as she kept up with her studying by doing extra work before she left.
“You miss one day [in a regular school] and you fall behind,” May said.
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Based at Brookswood Secondary School, Langley Equestrian Academy students attend classes three to five days a week under a flexible schedule that can be adjusted to accommodate riding.
Students can go out riding with their personal coaches on the same days they take classes, mixing morning rides with afternoon studies or vice versa.
Classes include courses in stable management and other equestrian-related skills, along with regular academic courses.
More advanced riding-related training includes lessons in sports psychology, athlete fitness, nutrition, networking with other athletes and managing sponsors.
Some students have an opportunity to work directly with fully certified teachers and professional equestrian mentors, attend equine clinics, and hear from riders. veterinarians and other experts in the field.
Jonker, who used to teach horseback riding at the family farm before she became a teacher, said the practical demands of the equestrian life have their own kind of educational value.
“They [horses] are the best teachers, wrapped up in hooves and hair” Jonker said.
“These kids are learning very adult things. There are a number of students who are working on farms, mucking out stables.”
The program offers different levels of academic and equestrian education based on age and ability, with students as young as nine taking beginner-level courses.
“It’s not how great you ride, it’s how you want to expand your character,” Jonker said.
“You don’t have to have a horse,” she stessed.
“We are not giving riding lessons, but we are supporting the work of the various trainers in this community in the hope of building a larger group of young people who want to be part of BC’s horse capital,” Jonker said.
Students can apply from any school district in Canada.
“We have kids from the North Shore. We have a girl from the Sunshine Coast.”
They can go on to related careers like equine sciences, veterinarian or farrier, though that is not a requirement of the course, Jonker said.
In three years, 93 kids have taken the program.
On May 26, the 11 latest graduates will be celebrated in a ceremony at the Thunderbird Show Park Grand prix event.
Langley Equestrian Academy is preparing to begin its fourth year in September 2019.
Jonker said the plan is to cap program will be capped at 48 kids for the coming year, so seats are limited and are expected to filled by May 31.
Opportunities for home stays are available for out-of-town applicants.
For more information, contact Ejonker@sd35.bc.ca or call 604-916-0961.
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