Anonymous - Team Member and Vet

I am a Smith '05 alumna, Glasgow Vet School 2011, working in Scotland as a small animal veterinarian after working as an equine veterinarian. I participated in the Equestrian team as an Open Rider during all four of my years as a student, and qualified both as a senior and as an alumna to two Regional competitions and one Zone competition. All of that, however, was a bonus to me. 

The real importance of Fox Meadow Farm to me is that, as a Smith student, the barn and it's horses being on campus saved my life. Don't worry, I'm not being melodramatic here; being autistic makes it hard for me to over-exaggerate. 

I suffered with undiagnosed depression until the age of 26 (well after Smith). I struggled with undiagnosed autism until the age of 33. However, throughout my academic career, I was high-functioning in my studies, and I chose Smith College to get my Biology degree over Mt Holyoke, which I felt to have similar qualities of education, on-campus life, and community, but a more welcoming barn and team. 

During my first semester and then my first year, I had a great deal of difficulty with making the transition to college, not due to my studies, but because I found it incredibly difficult to make friends with my fellow students. In spite of the house system, I fell through the cracks and rapidly became isolated, afraid, and slipped into a major depressive episode which was was made worse when the depression began to affect my grades. My sole interactions with Smith college personnel to help address this issue were when a then-Dean required me to make a meeting with them, on my birthday, to discuss my slipping grades, and the fact that if they continued to slip, I would be forced to quit the team. When my reaction to this was, quite naturally, to burst into tears, he memorably told me that to people in college, a birthday should be just any other day, that I should make a stronger effort to reach out to the people that ignored me in my house and classes, that if my roommate was talking badly about me that I should confront her, and that unless I sucked it up and moved on, then I wasn't worth being a Smithie. 

Sadly, at that time, I believed him. I picked my grades up, I made more efforts to connect with my classmates and housemates, I tried to make things work with my roommate, and I cried every day. What kept me going, during those days when I was trying to make myself into something worthy of being a Smithie, were the horses. I didn't have a car, or any friends with a car. Or any friends, to be honest, at least until my third year. My teammates on the Equestrian Team helped as much as they could, being busy with their own studies and struggles. I couldn't have afforded to go home every weekend to visit my family. Counseling didn't think I was depressed because I could keep my grades up and stay on the team. 
When it got so awful that I finally reached out again to the Administration to request a room change, I was again told I just wasn't trying hard enough to get along with the people I was living and taking classes with. At that point, convinced that I would not be able to escape the misery for another three and a half years, I became borderline suicidal. The administration, after my parents and one of my teachers spoke up for me, did finally get me into a room of my own, but the isolation and depression continued. 

The thing that kept me going, throughout those years at Smith, were the horses and the fact that I could walk to the barn at any time, day or night, to be with them. They did what no counselor or psychiatrist could, which was comfort me, reassure me, never judge me, and always be there. 

The presence of the Team helped, and Sue Payne was the first trainer that I had ever had that was able to coach me in a way that allowed me to focus appropriately on what I was doing, but that, to me, was a side effect of the barn's existence. The reason I went to Smith was because I could walk to that home away from home and exist there without being in pain the way I felt everywhere else on campus. 

Now I understand that there is a plan, without consulting the students or the alumnae, to close that barn, and turn it into a club sport. It seems not to matter to them that a club team can't host IHSA competitions on a twice-yearly basis the way that Smith did, much less host Regionals. If the team can't hold competitions, they lose half the benefit of being an equestrian team: not just learning how to ride, but learning the skills required to host a large competition under pressure. 

As a member of the team, I was able to design courses, learned how to announce for shows, and taught at least a dozen other team-members who had never ridden before that semester how to groom and braid, how to set courses and assist their team-members. I remember literally giving the shirt off my back (I fortunately had a zip-up vest I could wear over my sports-bra) for a team-mate who couldn't get a shirt to show in for her first competition, because we were part of a Team. 

Moving the team to a club, even if you plan to retain some of the horses, will greatly restrict the size of the team. To be competitive in IHSA, the larger the team, the more competitive, up to about 28 members. I also am dubious that you have plans to move the horses to anywhere accessible in walking distance of campus. There are not many barns even within driving distance of Smith that hold a reasonable number of horses that aren't already full.

I've been a member of three different equestrian clubs at different times of my life, and moving the horses to a place that isn't within walking distance will limit access to only the students who already have enough money to have a car (and if my memory serves, parking is already hard enough to find in Northampton). I'm sure the administration have an idea that well-meaning and well-organized students will coordinate car-pools, maybe even a shuttle service. I guarantee to you that, without the support that a varsity-level sport deserves, the club will rapidly dissolve. The students that aren't best friends with someone with a car will be the first to stop going, as they feel guilty every time they get a ride to the barn. The ones that have a car but are academically busy will be the next; exams are coming, papers are due, I'll go next week. Team spirit will keep it up for awhile, but eventually the inability to compete on the top level, the expense of gas and lessons, the inability to get to the barn to practice regularly, will cripple those who continue to try to compete, and the club will disappear, inaccessible to any but the rich students. That wasn't what Fox Meadow was about, and that's not what any sport should be about. If the college continues to have a team at all, it should be equal access. 

But the worst of this to me is not that the Team and the traditions of the Team will fall apart. Things change, after all, and if you all feel that riding is not a sport (although if you feel that way, I'd invite you to take some lessons first, and you'd never find lessons at a better value than during the years I was at Smith) and you disagree with the IOC, then that's your right. 

The worst of this is that, to me, this move removes a safety net for students that are like I was, and I am 100% certain that there are Smithies there on campus right now that are like I was. It removes another venue for the Animal Behavior courses for observational projects, it removes an outlet for academic tension for both faculty and students, and it, as a facility, is irreplaceable and I have seen no argument thus far from any member of the administration that will convince me that the current plans will provide the services that Fox Meadow Farm has done for decades without severely compromising the experience for many Smith students. It removes an additional safety net for students that are struggling. 

I'm aware that awareness on campus of the barn and the access for students is apparently at an all-time low, which, to be honest, baffles me. When I applied to be a student, there were pamphlets for the equestrian sports available just like every other sport Smith supported. Fox Meadow Farm was one of the reasons I applied, and the reason I went to Smith over Mt Holyoke, and was the reason I lived and graduated from my college experience. Without Fox Meadow, I would never have had the courage to go abroad, to apply to vet school, to exist where I am now. If the campus is unaware that the barn exists, what has the athletics program been doing to advertise it's existence? What help has been asked for from the alumnae to help the program?

As an alumna, there's not much I can do, aside from write letters, sign petitions, and encourage my fellow alumnae to do the same. But while this blind process continues without any transparency or discussion, that is what I will continue to do. As discussed earlier, Fox Meadow Farm existing where it does saved my life when I was a Smith student, not to mention my academic career. If they remove that support for other students that need it, then I will also forget the idea of ever supporting Smith again. Smith had a record-breaking fundraising year last year, so if it cannot find the heart to continue this program, then it obviously doesn't need my money, it will never need my money in the future, it does not want my daughter to attend in the future, it does not want me to encourage multiple young high school students in my home town to apply and attend. It does not want me to support it on social media and it does not want me to encourage my fellow alumnae to support it. 

If Smith removes its support of the one thing that actually kept me alive and at Smith, then I think it's only natural to assume that Smith does not now and never will require my support in the future, unless a member of the administration comes forward to explain exactly how they plan to patch the holes in what little plan they have so far shared with the wider Smith Community.