Program Highlight: Ranch Internship - Midland School

Program Highlight: Ranch Internship

Learning the ins and outs of a working ranch (and earning academic credit in the process)

Beneath an oak tree, a student and horse walk side-by-side. The student, working hard in the Ranch internship program -- an extension of the jobs program -- carries grain for the horse. In the background, more horses of Midland's herd stand and eat their own food, and farther behind we see a gorgeous hillside landscape. Caring for our horse herd is an integral part of our Natural Horsemanship program.Fall 2021

Have you ever saddled up between Math and English to go on a trail ride or help herd cattle? At Midland, that’s a regular occurrence for our students who embark on the Horse and Ranch Internship.

A course taken for academic credit, Midland’s Horse and Ranch Internship consists of two components: the horse component, where students are assigned a project horse that needs further development; and the ranch component, where students are taught to manage a working ranch. 

For students who focus on the horse side of the internship, they find that what sets our program apart is that it centers the horse and not the rider. What does this really mean? Regina Butala, our Director of Horse Programs, explains that this means using psychology instead of force — to train your horse on its timeline and not yours and to put the horse’s mental, emotional and physical state before your own ambitions. You can see this even in our terminology: we use the term “horse program,” rather than “equestrian” because we want to keep the horse first, central. 

Heron ’21, for example, worked with our horse Scout, as Scout started to have issues with a saddle, first due to poor saddle fit before it became a behavioral pattern. Regina worked with Heron to train Scout on saddle reintroduction, which is part of the colt starting skeleton. In this experience, Heron was able not only to familiarize herself with the process of reintroducing saddles, but to befriend and build a relationship with Scout.

This partnership is not only fundamental to the principles of natural horsemanship, but it reminds us that our students are regularly learning from our herd. Instead of students learning just one discipline from our horses, they are learning how to train, to work with a variety of training methods, to learn about health care, and more. The Midland herd is a diverse group, each an individual with something different to teach our students. We value our horses’ different personalities because it requires us to learn a multitude of training strategies and as a result become better skilled at horsemanship.

Putting the horse first not only benefits the emotional and physical wellbeing of the horse, but also creates a ripple effect wherein the horse becomes more easygoing and eager to partner with the student. As a result, the internship looks different for each participating student, and they learn way more than just riding. 

Midland’s model teaches our students a holistic approach to riding, training, groundwork and most importantly, to get in touch with how we present ourselves outwardly not only to the horse but in effect the world around us. When students graduate, we like to think that they could walk into a barn anywhere and read and work with a horse regardless of the horse’s background or discipline. Perhaps the most telling piece of this is that we don’t have any trainers on campus; instead we teach our students to maintain our herd. Many of our graduates have continued to ride and train horses after their time in the Horse Program.

Likewise, for students who choose to focus on the ranch side of the internship, they learn all about how to maintain our ranch. Ben ’22, for example, is learning how to move cattle and more about cattle ranching by working with Midland’s cattle. He was also able to begin the art of trimming hooves, a skillset that would position him well for a good living, if he is excited about pursuing such a career after his time at Midland. Pearl ’22 is likewise more excited about ranch management, and so her internships have focused on infrastructure, fencing and water — components that are fundamental to the running of a ranch. In the same way that each student and each horse has its own personality and flare, so does each internship.

We take pride in knowing that we’ve developed a program that would give both students and horses consistency and a common language — one that can be passed down from student to student and from horse to horse. After all, just as our students have helped train Midland horses for decades, Midland horses have taught and will continue to teach generations of students how to ride, and our ranch is the home of it all.

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