November 14, 2017

The “rein” of Ronaldo

Maddy Skrak ’18

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Ronaldo stands tall, with wise brown eyes and a big squarish head. In his stall, puffed by shavings, he towers over students with an air of athleticism and confidence.

When lower-level riders are assigned to Ron for practice, it’s as if they were invited to warm up one of McLain Ward or Beezie Madden’s horses. (For the non-equestrians out there, that would be like playing basketball with Michael Jordan.) Although this school donation horse — or “schoolie” — is not as famous as Ward’s HH Azur or Madden’s Breitling LS, at our Equestrian Center Ronaldo is nonetheless a beloved celebrity. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to this fine gentleman!

From left, Ronaldo competing in dressage with his former owner; with Mika McKinney on campus; and perking his ears for a photoFrom left, Ronaldo competing in dressage with his former trainer; with Mika McKinney on campus; and perking his ears for a photo

An invaluable teacher

The handsome Danish Warmblood was generously donated to Mount Holyoke in 2012, after having competed in dressage under the name Hojbo’s Ronaldo at the FEI Level in Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I classes. As the story goes, he was donated to the program because he and his rider decided that dressage was no longer his forté. So Mount Holyoke encouraged him to jump. Which, as it turns out, he is very good at!

Since his arrival, he has served as a pillar to Mount Holyoke's Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) varsity hunter seat team. He is leased out during the summers to show barns, has competed in national competitions — he was once deemed “horse of the show” at Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) Zones — and participates in endless Mount Holyoke horse shows, clinics, team practices and physical education lessons.

Ron has carried hundreds of riders on his back — improving their riding and enhancing their intercollegiate experience — and solidified his reputation as a fun, faithful and reliable upper-level school horse.

Hannah Thornton ’15 focusing intently as she rounds the cornerHannah Thornton ’15 focusing intently as she rounds the corner

Gleefully loved-on

Ron is a stable sweetheart — frequently featured in Snapchats, always being loved-on by our riders and famous for snuggling. Whenever students pass his stall to enter the indoor arena, at least one person gleefully squeals “Ron!” “Rondo!” or “Ronald!”

Whether it’s putting up with funny halloween costumes, posing for photo shoots, taking care of nervous riders on his back or advanced riders in his tack, or faithfully clearing any obstacle we point him at, Ronaldo is an integral member of our team!

One rider who you can always find in Ronaldo’s stall is Sabrina Fox ’18, who has known the debonair bay gelding since he arrived.

“Ron has a heart of gold,” said Sabrina. “He is a great school horse because he teaches riders to be patient and confident and to always keep their leg on around the corners. I love him every day for all the things he’s taught me.”

From left, Sabrina Fox ’18 with Ronaldo in her high school days and during her IHSA careerFrom left, Sabrina Fox ’18 with Ronaldo in her high school days and during her IHSA career

One in a million

A barn filled with Ronaldos would be IHSA heaven! In terms of the traits Mount Holyoke looks for in a school horse — safe, calm, athletic, a well-trained and patient teacher — he checks every box! Plus, he brings a few quirks to the table and teaches students through his challenging ride.

Honestly, he’s been an especially tough horse for me to figure out how to ride well,” said Mollie Kowalchik, captain of the 2017 – 2018 varsity hunter seat team. “But that’s part of what I love about him because he has taught me so much in the process. He is especially sensitive to my commands, which allowed me to learn how to use my legs, hands and seat more precisely.”

Mollie Kowalchik ’18 competing at the 2015 Zone Finals, hosted by Mount HolyokeMollie Kowalchik ’18 competing at the 2015 Zone Finals, hosted by Mount Holyoke

How did we get a donation like Ron?

Donating a horse to Mount Holyoke is a mutually beneficial relationship for the donor and our program — and the new job of teaching students can often be a good fit for horses who are stepping down from busy show careers.

Mount Holyoke horses have access to our entire state-of-the-art facility, including cross-country fields and trails, multiple indoor and outdoor arenas and heated wash stalls. Life at the barn brings daily turnout and lessons twice a day, six times a week. Schoolies also have farrier care, specifically fitted saddles and bridles, and quality veterinary care, including joint maintenance and supplements.

For donors, the process offers a tax write-off for the assessed value of the horse, a 30-day trial period and assurance that the donor will be contacted before any retirement placement. Plus, we are very selective regarding where our horses go for retirement and spend countless hours searching for the right situation.

Maddy Skrak ’18 having some fun with the much loved RonaldoMaddy Skrak ’18 having some fun with the much loved Ronaldo

An ode to schoolies

As the backbone of our riding program, donation horses become part of the Mount Holyoke family. Schoolies keep us at the top of competition in the ring. By practicing and showing top quality horses, teams receive a combination of the best instruction paired with the best facility.

The donations of the past have made a huge impact on current riders. To continue our cycle of excellence and stay at the pinnacle of IHSA and Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) competition, the Mount Holyoke equestrian program relies on the continual donation of horses like Ronaldo.

Thank you to all those who have donated wonderful horses in years past. And to those who might be itching at the prospect of donating a horse to the College’s program? On behalf of Mount Holyoke, I encourage you to explore whether we are the right fit for you and your horse!

Discover just the schoolie for you. Apply Now Button

Maddy Skrak ’18 hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She majors in Spanish and is pursuing a Nexus concentration in journalism, media and public discourse. As a member of the varsity hunter seat team, she has ridden in open flat and intermediate fences — and in her senior year will move up as an all-around open rider. Skrak is the marketing content development assistant for the Office of Communications and Marketing and is an Equestrian Fellow for the Office of Admission. Her summer 2017 internship with the Chronicle of the Horse magazine was funded by the College’s Lynk initiative. The fall of her junior year, Skrak studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain, where she fell in love with Europe and significantly improved her Spanish skills — which she will continue to do her senior year when she lives on the Spanish Language Floor. Among her favorite ways to pass time on campus, beyond riding? Staring at the stunning fall foliage, hiking and running around the Pioneer Valley, and buying ginger ice cream from Atkins Farms Country Market!
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