Eyes on the Prize—Education Options for the A Circuit Rider

As a teen or young adult, there is usually a struggle to balance academics and horses. This is even more intense for those in the A circuit. Parents’ concern for their child’s education, with the big decision of college hauntingly near, just adds more fuel to the flame, putting extra stress and pressure on the rider. So what options do these students have to succeed? Gina Marie Mondel of Horse Show Tutor, a company based in Wellington, FL, offers private tutoring services specifically for equestrians, along with insight from one of her students, lays out the options and the best plan for success.

Option 1: One on One Tutoring

According to Gina, the most recommended method for A circuit students is to hire a personal tutor. While the student competes in an event such as the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) or the Global Dressage Festival held in Wellington, FL, Gina suggests they stay enrolled in their traditional school in their home towns. “We just work with the school during the time they are away,” Gina states. “They are doing the same assignments on the same timeline that their classmates are doing and everything is sent back to the school for review.” However, this ideal scenario is not always the case. “Not all schools are cooperative,” Gina shares, “especially public schools and the state of New Jersey for some reason.” One of Gina’s students, Caroline Signornio, a seventh grader from Basking Ridge, NJ, is luckily a student at a cooperative school. “One-on-one tutoring is how I learn best,” Caroline shares. “I like that my tutor knows me and knows how I learn, so we get through work much quicker than when I am in school with my teachers.” For kids who don’t have the luxury of the schools cooperating and working with the tutor, they have to look at other options.

Soar or Plummet

So how do most students who choose to enroll in tutoring do once they get started? Gina says that it all depends upon the tutor service they are working with. “My students go back to school with better grades and usually ahead of their fellow classmates,” Gina shares, “but I have a very small business so I can stay on top of every student and every tutor that works within my company.” According to Gina, this is not always the case with larger services. “The kid is just a number, and if the kid isn’t proactive about signing up for tutoring sessions and getting work done, then a lot of time they fall behind,” she says.

Occasionally, Gina will get emergency phone calls from concerned parents asking for their child to transfer to her in order to get back on track. “If the kid is really motivated and they come home and they do all their work after the barn, they can get away with going to a larger service where there’s not as much personal attention,” she says.

Even though some students can handle their workload well with ease, a tutor can still be a great additional aid, while other students may need to rely heavily on a tutor to get their work done. Either way, Gina feels that “if the student can’t improve their grades with one-on-one tutoring, then the situation is just not right. If every kid had the opportunity for one-on-one tutoring, they would all get better grades than they did in traditional school.” Gina tells of students who come to tutoring in a completely different mindset from school, as they come in, do their work, and then leave— unlike traditional school where they spend their entire day in a classroom. One-on-one tutoring is also incredible for matching the individual’s specific pace of learning, which is oftentimes how students get ahead.

Option 2: Commuting

While commuting an hour to work may seem like a pain, imagine having to commute to another state via plane. Gina shares what it’s like for those students who choose to commute to the show ring. “Some kids have to commute back and forth, where they are really are flying down [to the show] for the weekends, staying enrolled in school, maybe only missing a day, and then flying back.”

As one can imagine, this doesn’t seem to be the most productive option scholastically or athletically in the show ring. Gina fears for what the students miss out on during their commute time. “While they are at the horse show, they learn so much just from watching the other riders and also from the opportunity to sit on other horses that aren’t their own. When the students are commuting back and forth on the weekends, they are missing all those extra opportunities for riding and the education that goes with horsemanship.” With this in mind, Gina believes commuting to be the worst-case scenario. “Its tough on the kids, they always seem tired and they always seem behind,” she says. “They are trying to do all their work on the plane.”

Another factor to keep in mind is while there may not be any snowstorms in Florida, a student’s home state’s weather can definitely interfere with the flights back and forth, especially if they commute all the way back up to the Northeast.

Option 3: Online Courses

When their schools aren’t willing to compromise and they realize that commuting isn’t the best option, students may choose to enroll in online courses. “I do have several kids who do online school, some of them full time, meaning they take all their courses just as if it were their own high school. Other kids stay enrolled in their actual high school but take extra courses in the online program to make it work,” Gina says.

This can be great for certain students, while being the downfall of others, depending on their time management skills, which Gina believes is the toughest part of online schooling. “Most of the online schools I work with, and I do have partnerships with a few, the assignments are not typically due on a specific day, they have a huge deadline where everything needs to be done. So for those kids, that hard deadline at the end always seems far away.” This is where time management can be difficult with online courses, but if they work with a tutor who oversees their efforts, online classes can be an ideal option.

Online classes may come with a bit of a bad reputation for lack of socialization of the student, however Gina says that, for riders, it may not be a problem. “I feel that in the horse show world, if they’re going to online school but still being social at the horse show and being friends with the people in their division, it’s the same amount of interaction that they would have at a regular school.” She adds on that riding in the A circuit may bring social options that traditional schools can’t. “Sometimes they even forge stronger friendships because they are not the weird girl at school who rides horses—they are surrounded by all their horse friends.” Gina shows concern for the introverted, however. “For a kid who is not friends with all the other pony kids or other kids in their junior division, then the lack of socialization with the online school can be a negative,” she states.

Decisions, Decisions

The student as an individual comes heavily into play when deciding which education option will work. If a student has decided that the A circuit is for them, and it’s time to choose how they are going to stay on track with their school work, Gina suggests seeing the level of their school’s cooperation as the first. “Some schools are totally on board, they have had other riders who do this. Some schools looks at it almost as an attribute for them to say ‘we’re flexible and we have students who go to horse shows’ and maybe skiers that go skiing.” If the school sees the show circuit as a great opportunity and chooses to work with the student, Gina suggests the one-on-one tutoring. If it comes down to commuting or online courses, the individual student’s work habits will be an indicator of which option is best.

It is important to note that if students do choose to enroll in one-on-one tutoring, after the season ends, there may be some difficulty in transitioning back to traditional school. “They get so used to this great tutoring routine and how it fits into their day that it seems dreadful to go back to the classroom and sit with teachers and other kids,” Gina shares. However, if the student returns ahead of their classmates, they can use this time to get used to the classroom setting again and not have to worry about catching up on top of that. Students who compensate with online classes may not have as much difficulty, again depending on the student, and those commuting will definitely have an easier time, as they won’t have to worry about flights and drives to their show destinations.

Additional Benefits

Juggling highly competitive riding and getting a good education at the same time may be a huge sacrifice for some kids, however there are a lot of great benefits to choosing to do both, according to Gina. As her students prepare for taking the next step to college, stress over SAT scores, and decide which schools to apply for, Gina reminds her students of their advantage. “When you have a kid who has ridden on the A circuit and accomplished all these incredible things athletically, and then we also say that they were a full-time high school student while doing all of this, it makes them a very attractive candidate for colleges,” Gina shares. “If students are looking to get into Ivy League or any competitive schools, the colleges are not just looking at grades and SAT scores; they are looking at the individual.”

It is mighty impressive for a rider to say they competed at some of the biggest horse shows in the nation and also have maintained a great GPA average while traveling and pursuing their equestrian dreams. “It really helps with them getting into college,” Gina states.

And the benefits don’t stop there, as working hard at a young age can also just make them a well-rounded individual. “They are dealing with things that college students have to deal with while they are in high school—time management, riding in schools, etc.” Another key trait colleges look at is a student’s ability to be responsible, and committing to something like the A circuit is a prime example of that because again, these are kids who are sacrificing the typical needs of being a teenager for their passion. “The kids on the circuit, they have to do their own laundry, they have to figure out how to get the oil changed in their car before the drive home, etc.” Gina feels her students grow up a little bit faster and are more mature than other students their age, “because they are still a kid but are dealing with adult stuff on top of it.”

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