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Washington Post: Four-Legged Freshman

Md. Teenager Heads to College With One Essential: Her Horse

8/31/2005 4:07:54 PM


Kara Clissold is beginning her first year of college, and so is her horse Hop Ashore. Kara's choice of schools depended on which would offer her horse a position on the school equestrian team.

The following story appeared in the Friday, August 26, 2005 edition of The Washington Post and, and is reprinted with permission.

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 2005; B01

Of all the thousands of students packing up to go to college this month, most have one thing they can't leave behind: the perfect pair of jeans, the iPod, the Bible, the fake ID.

For Kara Clissold, that one thing is her horse. When Hop Ashore was accepted to Randolph-Macon Woman's College this spring, she sent in her deposit.

"He definitely knows," she said, reaching out and rubbing his chin. She walked back to the barn to get the last of his things, piling bridles over her shoulder. Her mom unscrewed the brass nameplate from the front of his stall, rubbed the dust off and held it for a moment, looking at it.

Like every other freshman, Clissold, 18, is a little nervous about leaving home. But she's more worried about Hop: Will he like the food there? Make new friends? Measure up?

During campus tours last year, her mother asked her if she could imagine living there. Clissold said, "If my horse could be happy here, I'm sure I could be happy."

And so with one large borrowed trailer, one new-to-them used pickup truck, one car, a bunch of hay and a zillion boxes, they set off Monday morning from their Bel Air, Md., home toward Interstate 95, the Capital Beltway, Lynchburg, Va., and their futures.

Clissold isn't the only student bringing a horse to freshman orientation. In a region known for its hunt country and racetracks, many schools have equestrian programs, and some allow about 15 students to bring their animals each year.

Not that Nancy Kreiter, Clissold's mother, knew that. As a biology professor at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, she advises students on their courses and graduate schools -- so she thought she would be a big help to her daughter when it came time to apply to colleges.

But Clissold never seemed very interested in the schools her mother suggested, places such as Vassar and Amherst and Swarthmore. "She balked at applying," Kreiter said.

Kreiter looked through a Mount Holyoke College brochure, trying to figure out why that school appealed and the others didn't. That's when she saw photos of horses, and it hit her: She was talking about academics. Her daughter was considering only schools with equestrian programs.

When her parents gathered photos for a graduation page this spring, they couldn't find any of Clissold without a horse. As a toddler, she played with hobby horses. She rode ponies at camp. She trained her dog to do jumps in the back yard, mucked out stalls at a nearby farm, took riding lessons, saved money.

When she first rode Hop Ashore, a 15-year-old chestnut thoroughbred with a white blaze on his nose, she didn't like him. He had been a racehorse, and maybe he missed the track; he was ornery, and he didn't know how to jump.

But when she looked up his race records, she saw that every time a certain jockey was on his back, Hop Ashore won. At the stable in Joppa, Md., where Clissold worked and took lessons, numerous people were riding him, and he wasn't happy, said Kreiter, who studies animal behavior. "He's a one-person horse."

Together, Clissold and Hop Ashore learned to compete in hunter-jumper events, and four years ago, her parents surprised her at Christmas: Hop was hers.

So this spring, she had narrowed her choice of colleges to two: Sweet Briar College (which has a "riding" link smack in the middle of its home page) and Randolph-Macon, where more than one in every eight students rides and the campus has a 100-acre equestrian facility with jumping arenas.

She was accepted to both. But Hop Ashore got a rejection letter from Sweet Briar. "I knew he wasn't quite the cal

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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