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Stable manager finds her niche among horses at Sweet Briar

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Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012 5:17 pm | Updated: 9:14 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

In an office tucked into a massive stable at the Harriet Rogers Riding Center at Sweet Briar College, Amie Chenault has found her niche amid the massive, noted equestrian facility.

Chenault is the stable manager for the college’s horses, who ply the idyllic ranges of the pastoral grounds near the Blue Ridge Mountains at the Harriet Rogers Riding Center.

“It’s a job you don’t mind getting up and going to do in the morning,” she said. “Every day is different. I do enjoy it.”

So do the students.

“I think they enjoy coming and learning to ride,” Chenault said. They like the competition aspect of it. The beginners like the one on one [instruction]. Some enjoy riding different horses.

“Each instructor is different in a good way.”

Chenault, born and raised in Amherst County, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in equine careers and industry management in 2002, from Salem International University in Salem, W.Va. She received a Master of Education with a specialty in equine education in May 2006.

Chenault has been at Sweet Briar for nearly nine years but horses have been a part of her life since she was a teenager, raised in the Allwood area of Amherst County. The best part of the job is “probably working with the horses and the students,” she said.

Her assistant, Elizabeth Gerhard, began there with a fellowship and stayed.

“We won’t let her go,” Chenault said, noting Gerhard’s riding talent and work ethic.

Students with horses in their lives are drawn to Sweet Briar.

This year, the college has 126 students in program, said Mimi Wroten, the director of riding. The facility has one of the largest indoor rinks — the biggest when it was built in the 1970s.

The students are drawn not only to the program and its offerings, but to the individual instruction.

“A lot of them come with an interest,” Wroten said. They teach students with all levels of experience.

Twenty-five students board their own horses; three lease horses from the college, which has 52.

“We have mares at the cottage, thoroughbreds to warm bloods, a couple of quarter horses,” Chenault said, and several cross breeds. Some are show horses and school masters.

Horses are brought from as far away as California, Texas, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina and Florida.

The facility has four barns and is open seven days a week. It has three outdoor rings, including one large competition ring with lights, multiple fields with various sizes of jumps, miles of trails and horse trailers.

The Old Dominion Pony Club uses the facility and hosts field trips.

The college has a hunter-jumper program to teach the forward system of riding. Classes are group lessons held twice a week.

Teams practice in the mornings and lessons are 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The college has five teams supported on a varsity level: Intercollegiate Horse Show Association; American National Riding Commission; hunter show team; jumper-equitation show team; and the field riding team. Students can belong to more than one team.

Chenault began riding when she was 12 or 13.

“It all started with Sue” when she saw an ad in the paper, referring to her trainer, Sue Ivins, in Amherst County.

“I would ride the school bus there and work with Sue, I would work off the cost of the lessons.” She has ridden with Olympians, Valerie Kanavy and Rita Swift.

Her 19-year-old gelding, Zeek, recently won the Triple Crown of the Old Dominion Endurance Rides, ridden by Gerhard. His spotted color is known as flea-bitten gray.

“He’s getting darker as he gets older,” Chenault said.

“He won’t be clean for long. It turns everybody red,” she said of the Sweet Briar clay soil.

Chenault’s constant companion is Dottie Sue, a mild-mannered Jack Russell terrier, and Gerhard’s pal is Molly, who is a lively but undetermined breed.

Reach Scott Marshall at (434) 946-7196 or smarshall@neweraprogress.com.

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