Ojai Valley School Equestrian students are once again back in the saddle.
The equestrian program director of OVS Upper and Lower Campus, Stephanie Gustafson, and OVS Lower Campus equestrian teacher, Krista Belgum, as well as the rest of the OVS equestrian staff, have been working tirelessly to get the beloved equestrian program up and running once again at both campuses.
With the dangers and concern surrounding COVID-19, both campuses closed their barns in March when the school shut down to in-person classes.
It was only the beginning of the long journey and hard work ahead.
“We are so fortunate to have Shannon Sedlak and Jose Maldonado care for our horses,” Mrs. Gustafson explained. “There is a constant round of feeding, cleaning, grooming, hoof picking, exercise, turnout, and illness/injury management.
“Normally the students play a huge role in helping to care for the horses as well. During our COVID hiatus, however, we did have to adjust the way we cared for them. While every horse had daily turnout, as usual, we also lunged the horses to help keep them fit.”
There was a very similar plan of action put into play at the Lower Campus barn with the guidance and leadership of longtime equestrian teacher Krista Belgum.
“During the first part of quarantine, we maintained the horses’ fitness by riding or lunging each horse thre days a week as well as daily turn-out,” Mrs. Belgum said. “Some of our horses were able to go out to a large pasture setting for a portion of the time. We brought the horses back in late June for Summer Camp. We used many of the horses for our summer program at the lower campus. Those that weren’t being used maintained light work at our upper campus. Some horses rotated through light work and time off in pasture. We have been very careful to bring the horses back into full work slowly to ensure they don’t become injured.”
One of the largest and arguably most important parts of bringing the equestrian program back to life once again was the process of becoming an approved equestrian center by the county of Ventura.
“My husband has his own business, which he had to register through the county,” Mrs. Gustafson said. “I thought that same process would probably apply to us as well.”
Because caring for horses truly is a full-time job, the planning and establishment of an effective and safe protocol to present to the county was crucial to the approval of creating an equestrian center
“Even during the initial stay-at-home order, essential businesses, including those dealing with livestock, were allowed to be open,” Mrs. Gustafson said. “Once the county began registering businesses, it was fairly simple to come up with a business plan that kept employees and customers as safe as possible. That plan was submitted and approved by the county.”
The approval of OVS becoming an equestrian center brought the next major step in restarting the program for students once again, and that was being able to follow COVID protocol in the barn as well as making it a safe environment.
At the Upper Campus, Mrs. Gustafson set guidelines for the barn to ensure safety and order with the risk of the virus.
“We will maintain physical distancing, wear a mask, sanitize equipment, daily temperature checks, and only have one person in an enclosed area at a time,” Mrs. Gustafson explained in reference to the COVID safety guidelines. “It’s fairly simple given our outside environment.”
The Lower Campus has a very similar process in order to ensure safety.
“Students must wash their hands before coming to the barn and before they leave,” Mrs. Belgum explained. “Everyone must wear a mask and maintain social distancing at all times. Tack is set out in front of each stall and the riders tack up in their assigned horses stall. Riders must provide their own helmet, boots, and grooming supplies. Riders are not allowed in the tack room, office, or feed area.”
The goal of all the safety measures and precautions is to make it possible for students to enjoy the equestrian program once again and enjoy time with the horses.
With the new addition of different safety measures and protocols, it makes Mrs. Gustafson’s and Mrs. Belgum’s jobs even busier than before.
There is plenty of preparation in order for students to be able to ride in the barn daily, especially for Mrs. Belgum at the Lower Campus barn.
“We have to do a lot more prep for our classes,” Mrs. Belgum said. “We set out all their tack, and due to shortened class times, we are tacking or untacking for most of our classes. We are also cleaning and sanitizing equipment regularly.”
All the time and effort spent in preparation has paid off for both OVS barns.
Both the Upper and Lower Campus barns now have their students back in the saddle, with over thirty students riding at the Lower campus. The Upper Campus initially had only two resident students riding when classes were being held virtually, but several more have since joined the program now that the high school has shifted to in-person learning.
Now that both barns are open, it is time for the OVS students to get back in their boots and helmets and get to work with the horses once again.
“I would love to see more students come to the barn,” Mrs. Gustafson said.“Having an Equestrian Center on campus is a wonderful, and unique, addition to our OVS educational experience. You can’t imagine how amazing it is to have a horse as a partner until you have experienced it. For me, riding and spending time with my horses is the best part of every day.”Share