While I did not learn of Hollins until late in my college search, I knew the moment I set foot on campus that Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., was the perfect place for me. I could tell right away that Hollins was different from all the other schools I had visited.
My first trip to Hollins included a typical scheduled tour of the campus. However, this was anything but the typical college tour. I will never forget the first impression I got as my mom and I drove though the entrance gates and saw a student galloping her horse up the beautiful hill that overlooks the main campus.
A Hollins alumna with whom I rode first introduced me to the college. I really wasn't interested in a women's college, but she insisted that I give it a chance. At the time, I was a junior equitation rider at SBS Farm, Inc., in Buffalo, N.Y., which was a good distance from my hometown of Albany. Riding at SBS was amazing, but driving five hours to ride was time consuming. When I found out that Hollins had a beautiful on-campus stable that was just a short walk from the dorms, my interest level continued to rise.
After competing in the New England Medal finals, I decided to attend Hollins in the fall of 2002 because of the excellent reputation of the university's biology department. Of course, the on-site riding facility and amazing coaches also played a role in this decision.
The first thing I learned when I arrived at Hollins freshman year was that at least half of the student body had some sort of riding experience, which makes it easy to meet people. As a pre-vet biology major I found myself with a very difficult course load. Even though I was busy with schoolwork and having fun with all of my friends, my free time was still spent at the barn. I took two scheduled lessons per week and also enjoyed free rides and additional lessons.
Riding on the team has been an incredible experience from several different perspectives. I have met some of my best friends through the team, including my roommate. The Hollins riders stick together -- we not only ride together, but we also study and party together. You can always count on the team to cheer you on and to be supportive even when you don't ride well.
However, the best part of the team for me is the connections that we develop with the coaches. Nancy Peterson provides words of encouragement, a lesson in horsemanship or a huge smile when you walk out of the ring. When it comes to details, Liz Courter can catch an off-center choker seconds before you walk into the ring. When you see Elise Roschen in the ring, you know to expect a little no-stirrup work. What's most impressive about Elise is how she knows everything about every horse and rider in the barn. Even if you think no one knows about your crazy weekend you had, Elise knows!
Of course, the team wouldn't be complete without our head coach, Sandy Gerald. Whether I am taking a lesson on a Hollins horse, practicing or schooling my horse Maykel, it's always a learning experience. He goes over your ride from start to finish in explicit detail, and I have even learned new vocabulary from his eloquent descriptions. You can always tell when you've had an exceptional ride, just by his "all right!" However, you can also tell when you've taken a real "flyer," because that's when he'll break out the inhaler.
This year, my second year at Hollins, has been an even better experience for me. I have had the opportunity to ride and show Hollins' horses and my own horse Maykel. Maykel is a five-minute walk from my room -- and is a real stress reliever for me. I was very worried at first about how Maykel would handle "college life," but since he's been at Hollins I haven't had to worry about a thing.
The riding program is excellent, but it's not the only thing that makes Hollins special. I have grown to love the atmosphere, especially the small classes and close relationships I have been able to develop. Hollins is a close-knit community -- it's not uncommon to be invited to a professor's house for a picnic or see a professor at a horse show.
While I'm not sure what the future holds for me in the horse business, I know that horses will forever be a part of my life, whether I become a vet or just keep an amateur horse. No matter what happens, I know I have learned many life lessons from the horses and people who have touched my life along the way.
Jennifer Champagne is in the class of 2006 at Hollins University. For more information about Hollins, visit www.hollins.edu.