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Equestrian Escape

June 29, 2012

Students find a home away from home at local farm

 

HANNAH SCHILLING
News Editor

 

It is a Saturday and instead of sleeping in after a long night of partying, Kelsey Regan begins her day before sunrise. She is greeted by the smell of hay and manure as she feeds her horse, Revelation, before the competition begins. She gets the times she should be ready to ride and mounts her horse for the first phase of the competition.

 

At the end of the day, Regan wraps Revelation’s legs in ice to ensure he will be ready to finish the second day of the competition .

 

“These shows are so far and very demanding for you and your horse,” Regan, a junior kinesiology major said. “It is best to do just one a month.”

 

Regan has won the highest award, a blue medal ribbon award, for getting three first through third places over this past year, and she and Revelation now sit at No. 6 in the nation for eventing, a three-phase competition involving show jumping, cross-country jumping and dressage.

 

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” she said. “It takes a great amount of connection with your horse to be able to tell him exactly what you want him to do.”

 

Regan lived in Shreveport, so when she moved to Ruston as a junior last fall to study kinesiology at Tech, she faced the dilemma of finding a place for Revelation to stay.

 

“I was not going to leave my beloved horse behind, so I had to find a farm to board him at while I am at school,” she said. “Covenant Farm was the perfect fit for me and my horse. We are like one big family here.”

 

Gwen Swanbom, owner of Dubach-Based Covenant Farm and also the resident trainer with a German training license, transformed the land her parents owned from a place where her friends kept their horses into a full-fledged business when she graduated from Tech in 2004.

 

“We did not start to make money,” she said. “We try to help people out and give them the opportunity to ride.”

 

Covenant Farm offers boarding for horses, which includes daily care and their own stall, lessons on a student’s own horse or a school horse, summer camps, training, and they also lease horses to people who cannot afford to own one.

 

To Swanbom, it is more than just her business — it is her family.

 

“Our focus is to be a family and have relationships,” she said. “You can be yourself here. This is a place to get away from drama.”

 

Swanbom said 80 percent of the riders are college students because it is affordable for them. They have dinner at Swanbom’s house every Monday night and travel to competitions in groups when possible.

 

Brittany Degravelle, a senior general studies major, has been riding at Covenant Farm since 2010.

 

“Gwen is an amazing teacher and very motivational,” Degravelle said. “She has taught me so much, and still to this day I feel like I am improving my skills and refining my techniques with her as my coach. I continue to learn every time I ride with her.”

 

Covenant Farm allows students who otherwise would not have been able to continue riding when they came to college, to continue to pursue the passion of competing and having a relationship with horses.

 

Emily McConnico, a sophomore psychology major, said she would not be able to take lessons if it were not for the barn.

 

“It’s really expensive,” she said. “It’s like having another person to pay for. At Covenant, they let you work lessons off, and that’s a really cool thing. Most barns won’t let you do that.”

 

Degravelle said she also works at the barn to fill in whatever she cannot afford.

 

“The worst part about riding is how expensive it is,” Degravelle said. “In order to afford my horse, I work almost full time and also work at the barn when I am able to. It is worth it in my eyes.”

 

McConnico said she loves working at the barn because she gets to be around the other people who work there.

 

“When I moved here, they were the first people I connected with,” McConnico said. “They are really welcoming, and they’re part of the reason I decided to stay here this summer.”

 

Degravelle said she knows her horse, Taz, is in good hands at Covenant Farm, and it is also a place for her to go to get away.

 

“It’s a drama-free barn,” she said. “I can go there to relax and not have to hear gossiping and fighting. I know my horse is well taken care of there. The riders there are good people.”

 

Not only has Degravelle been able to relax at the barn, but she said riding has even had a positive effect on her school work.

 

“Riding relieves my stress and gives me a great mindset,” Degravelle said. “I am more efficient with school work.”

 

Regan said Covenant Farm has been a blessing to her and her horse, and has enabled her to continue riding while living in Ruston for school.

 

The farm’s owner said horses, each with their own personality, are a blessing to the farm too.

 

“We have around 50 horses, and more than 15 breeds, and all of them are different,” Swanbom said.

 

Degravelle describes her horse, Taz, as a well-mannered but stubborn Arabian who is afirecracker on the course.

 

“Sometimes he doesn’t agree with what I tell him to do,” she said. “He is smart enough to know how to work against me when he doesn’t want to cooperate.”

 

Revelation, Regan’s horse, is an 8-year-old Thoroughbred/Hanoverian cross bred specifically for eventing.

 

“He is a fancy horse that catches the judges eyes,” Regan said. “He is brave and jumps everything I point him at.”

 

McConnico’s horse, Forrest Jump, lives up to his name and she said he prefers the company of people, not horse’s.

 

“He is really funny,” she said. “Sometimes I won’t be able to find my phone, and I’ll turn around and he’ll have it in his mouth. I wouldn’t ever give him up for anything.”

 

Besides being around horses all day and having relationships with the riders, Swanbom said she makes sure that part of her job is staying on top of her own technique as a rider.

 

“I want to get better at things I teach,” she said. “Any good trainer never stops wanting to learn.”

 

Training is important to riders, because according to Degravelle, riding is a lot more complicated than it looks.

 

“You do not just sit on the horse and trot around,” she said. “It is extremely technical and any slight movement of a part of your body can change how a horse behaves. Even a little wiggle of my finger with the reins can affect how my horse performs.”

 

As a trainer Swanbom said she makes sure the riders are aware of every movement they make on and off the course. She is a mentor and an inspiration to the riders in her barn. If someone cannot afford a lesson, she allows them to work it off, and she keeps the prices low enough that any college student with a passion for riding can afford it.

 

“We’ve been blessed, so it’s out obligation to bless others,” Swanbom said.

 

Email comments to hms017@latech.edu.

 

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