CMHS 8th Grade Students Experience Thrill of Horseback Riding

By Lura Jackson


For most students, the image of school as an inescapable prison teaching lessons that have no application to real life is something straight out of a nightmare. At Calais Middle High School, there are teachers endeavoring to ensure that such images are kept where they belong – in the realm of nightmares – by instead gifting their students with enjoyable experiences that will stay with them long after they have graduated. Such is the case with physical education instructor Steve McGinley, who recently took his 8th grade class on a horseback riding trip that elevated the class experience to that point of unanimous feedback that all teachers cherish hearing: “It was fun!”

For the past twelve years or so, McGinley has been aiming to incorporate “life experience” and outdoor activities into his physical education classes. McGinley, who has been teaching at Calais Middle High School for thirty years, said that he has had some success in accomplishing his task. Students have been downhill skiing in the winter, taken hiking trips in the fall, and embarked on bike riding excursions in the springtime. Horseback riding remained an elusive goal for McGinley, but with the new administration in the school, his request to take a class to a horse farm was finally approved.

Eight students from McGinley’s 8th grade class traveled to Double T Farm in Perry in the second week of May to experience horseback riding in a farm setting. Double T Farm is owned and operated by Tobbie Ackley, a former student of McGinley’s. Accompanying the students were assistants Dawn McClure, Skyla Stow, Laura Barnett and Olivia Huckins and ed tech Jami Morseside. McClure and Stow brought two horses themselves, bringing the total horses available to four. All of the students were able to ride during their time at the farm.

“They showed us how to brush them, how to walk them around, and they gave us some tips,” said student Sophia McVicar. “We were shown how to saddle them,” added Jocelyn Manza. “It was a lot more fun than the usual gym class,” said Madyson Parks. “It was relaxing,” concurred Ethan Rogers. 

While all of the students had been on a horse of some kind at least some point in the past, some were less familiar with them than others. Hannah Gadway said she was a bit nervous at first, having only been on a pony in a small corral before, but the assistants were a big help. “They helped me become less nervous and I had a better time,” she shared. 

For McGinley, getting the students to Double T Farm was a goal well-fulfilled. McGinley described how he himself had horses in his childhood until his family was unable to continue caring for them. “Horses are my favorite animal,” he said candidly. Seeing the students interact with and appreciate the animals was a treat for the instructor. “The horses were all very well-mannered. I thought they bonded well with them.”

The four horses – Ace, J.R., Teddy and Misty – took well to the experience. J.R. was the most popular horse, because, as Moreside explained, “He was funny. You could tell his personality.” Ace, who McGinley believes is a mix of a Belgian draft horse and a quarter horse, was popular with some students for his remarkable size. “They were all nice horses,” summarized McGinley.

The goal of incorporating “life experiences” like horseback riding into school instruction is to introduce students to potential hobbies and passions that they will carry with them, McGinley explained. “If they liked it they might develop an interest in owning a horse in the future,” he said. For several students participating in the class, owning a horse went up much higher on their priority list after the experience. 

In the fall, McGinley aims to take other classes horseback riding, and he hopes to expand it to the 7th grade as well. Though he expressed there are logistical challenges with larger groups of students, he made it clear that he would continue to seek avenues to make it possible to broaden the horizons of as many of his charges as possible. 

Eight students from the CMHS 8th grade physical education class were treated to a horseback riding experience at Double T Farm in Perry thanks to the efforts of instructor Steve McGinley and farm owner Tobbie Ackley. (Submitted photos)