Kohler taking equestrian programs on a successful ride
By Debbie Clark
“I connect with the students... I share their experiences... I like it here or I wouldn’t have stayed.”
That sums up Nancy Kohler’s first five years at Alfred University. And from the history of those five years and recent successes in the programs she oversees, it should also sum up the next few years for the director of the Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center at Maris Cuneo Equine Park.
Kohler reined in an opportunity when she took on AU’s equestrian program and today she and the University are beginning to see a reputable program emerging under the regional/national equestrian spotlight (see related article this edition of Alfred Online).
The program has come a long way since Kohler first visited the Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center for her job interview.
“I remember, when I came out of my interview and was leaving the parking lot, thinking, ‘What a lot of work there is to do here.’ “ But, “I could see the potential and I felt pretty excited about it.”
Kohler said she could tell the University was genuinely interested in the program based on the amount of time and resources it had put into its establishment. The other attraction was that she genuinely liked the Alfred community.
“I liked the community, I liked everyone I met, and everyone was friendly. … The atmosphere of the town and village appealed to me; I’m an outdoors person. … I knew the location would suit me.”
One of the first things Kohler put into place her first year at Alfred was a structured use of the Equestrian Center, which up to that point had operated on a somewhat “open door/public riding stable” policy, which in addition to taking time away from the many professional uses, presented safety issues. There was a need to devote the majority of the operations at the facility to students and their classes, team practices, and students who were boarding their horses, said Kohler.
Another immediate concern was the quality of the horses used in the programs. The effort to upgrade has been such a success that Alfred’s horses are now being used in intercollegiate competitions at the regional, zone, and national levels (see related article this edition of Alfred Online).
Kohler is pleased with the way the Equestrian Studies program is organized at AU. She likes to say, “At Alfred, you can pursue your passion (for horses) while you pursue your studies.” Although she fields many questions about moving into a four-year major, she believes keeping the academic selection to a minor is a good fit for Alfred University. And she maintains, knowing from her own experience in the business, that a four-year major is not a necessity for an equestrian career.
Oftentimes, “the industry is not impressed” with a four-year degree in equestrian studies; the industry is more attracted to experiences, she said. “It’s often a career you don’t go to school for,” she emphasized, noting that having a business major or related background is more often a plus. In addition, “parents want to hear about a good education, not just about horses.”
Some frequent academic combinations include pairing the equestrian studies minor with business, pre-vet, pre-med, chemistry, engineering, art, and psychology. Combining equestrian studies and business can lead to owning a training operation or tack shop, or operating any number of small businesses that sustain the horse industry, or even working with a large scale breeding operation. Other examples include combining equestrian studies with: psychology leading to certification in equine assisted therapy; environmental science leading to the study of field use, crop rotation, and land management; chemistry to prepare for a career in equine pharmaceuticals; or vet tech training.
Alfred University also offers several pluses with its equestrian programs, notes Kohler. First is the facility itself. Many collegiate-level programs do not have their own facilities, she said. And many more do not offer their students affordable programs. At AU all equestrian teams are fully supported by the University; there are no out-of-pocket expenses for the student, she emphasized. Intercollegiate competition is open to all riders, from those with little experience to those at the advanced levels of competition.
Kohler is excited that this fall the first alumna from the equestrian program, Jennifer (Brown) Smith ’02, will be inducted into the AU Sports Hall of Fame.
Smith is the most accomplished rider in AU equestrian team history, three times competing in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) national championships. She placed in the top eight in the country in the Open Division of the IHSA hunt seat class each year she competed at nationals. As a freshman in 1999, she was eighth in Open Equitation on the Flat; in 2000, she was seventh in that same event; and in 2001, as a junior, she placed fourth nationally in Open Equitation Over Fences.
Now that things are moving forward in all directions for the program, Kohler has some time to think about future enhancements.
In the near future, she plans to start a young alumni group to keep graduates from the program connected as well as to have them serve as a support group and network system for current students.
Also in the planning stages is a second student trip to Ireland in spring 2013, this time to focus on fox hunting and cross country. Kohler led a student group to Ireland in spring 2011 when the focus was on horse farms and management.
In the distant future, there is need to expand the arena facilities, perhaps by an addition to the Equestrian Center. The current facility has outgrown its capacity, said Kohler, noting the indoor arena is in constant use with classes and team practices Monday-Thursday from 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m. And there has to be time for boarder to ride their horses, she added. There is an outdoor arena, however it is not always an option; the outdoor area is generally used from April through mid-November.
Kohler notes that more arena space would allow for more classes, more shows, and open the opportunity to develop a community lesson program.
In the summer, the Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center is used for both day and residential camps. This year the camps have been expanded from a Sunday-Thursday format to Sunday-Saturday.
The University is beginning to see the summer camps as a good recruitment tool. The fall 2012 incoming freshman class includes an early-admit student who attended a summer equestrian camp and there is a current junior who was a “camper,” said Kohler and there are likely several others.
She has also become involved with the W.I.L.D. (Wilderness Immersion Learning and Discovery) initiative on campus as a committee member. She sees it as a natural extension to her program as well as a mechanism to help all students learn to appreciate and participate in their surroundings. “We need to get out there and enjoy this natural setting and take advantage of what’s here.”
In what will be a bridge between AU and the intercollegiate programs, Kohler was enthused to accept a recent appointment as Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) regional president of Zone II, Region I. She will serve the remainder of her predecessor’s term, which expires in June 2013, at which point the region’s membership will vote on her serving a full two-year term as president.
Kohler, who also serves as head coach of the AU hunt seat riding team, said the appointment will help raise the profile of the University’s Equestrian Program, which has both an athletics and academic component.
"Alfred will be the President College. We will now be able to host the regional (hunt seat) show in 2013," she said. A regional championship - and potentially a Zone II championship as well - held at the Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center at the Maris Cuneo Equine Park will increase awareness of the AU Equestrian Program
"This will just give us more visibility and help us get out there what type of program we have here at Alfred."
As region president, Kohler’s duties include setting regional show dates, collecting show entry fees and maintaining team and rider paperwork and records for the teams in the region. She will also be assigned to IHSA committees representing Zone II, Region I.
Kohler is also working on her Running Judges Card license through the United States Equestrian Federation, which will allow her to be a show judge. Her “learner’s permit” has been approved and this summer she should be evaluating and critiquing at the lower level shows; upper level will come next.
Judging “brings more prestige to the University and is a good way to network,” said Kohler.