High school horse course: Chinook’s Edge School Division pilots a program teaching equine skills

It wasn’t your typical classroom. There was a slight smell of manure and hay in the air. Instead of sitting in desks, students were brushing down horses, cleaning pens and leading horses around the arena.

High school students from Olds

OLDS — It wasn’t your typical classroom.

There was a slight smell of manure and hay in the air. Instead of sitting in desks, students were brushing down horses, cleaning pens and leading horses around the arena.

The Chinook’s Edge students traded in their sneakers for cowboy boots, as part of a pilot project that gives Olds College students the chance to practise coaching and Chinook’s Edge high school students hands-on training with horses.

High School students from Olds, Delburne, Didsbury, Bowden, Sundre, Red Deer and Carstairs spent 30 hours from February to March in the classroom receiving lectures in Olds or through videoconferencing at community engagement sites in some of the smaller communities. The course continues into April.

Recently, they had the chance to use the skills and knowledge they’d learned in the classroom, practising how to identify horses by their colouring and markings, how to identify different types of feed and how to safely groom a horse. They also had to get down and dirty, cleaning up stalls and learning how to take a horse’s temperature.

Justene Ortman was one of around 30 enthusiastic students taking part.

The Grade 12 student at Hugh Sutherland School in Carstairs hopes to be an equine massage therapist in the future. She has a bit of experience with horses, with seven miniatures on her family’s acreage.

“They’re basically big dogs,” she said. “They’re pets.”

Ortman said her favourite part of the day was getting to walk the horses around.

The high school class, titled So You Love Horses, allows students to receive two career and technology studies credits at a high school level, along with four college credits from Olds College.

Mara Cootes-Freeman, manager of continuing education in the school of animal science at Olds College, developed the program in consultation with Chinook’s Edge School Division.

Cootes-Freeman said Olds College has a strong equine science program and the course could open the high school students’ eyes to attending the college.

She said even if the students don’t continue with their training, they will leave the course with a lot of skills and knowledge about horses.

Equine science students at Olds College also got to hone their coaching skills, creating nine stations for the high school students to go through and explaining step-by-step what to do.

Taryn Husky of Edmonton taught students about identifying markings on a horse, how to clean a stall and catch and release a horse properly.

The second-year student in the English horsemanship program at Olds College didn’t grow up on a farm, but took lessons in riding from the age of nine. Husky hopes to get nationally certified so that she can coach anywhere in Canada.

“I know that when I was starting riding, I wish there was someone there to tell me this is what you’re supposed to do,” Husky said. She said the high school class allows students to get a good foundation, rather than learning what to do by trial and error.


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