Searching through rows of fragrant pine, spruce, and Fraser fir looking for the perfect shape and size tree to adorn your home is a favorite Christmas tradition. But the fun really begins with the decorations! Strands of twinkling lights wrapped round branches gently weighed down with glass globes and glittering crystal ornaments complete the picture of the perfect Christmas tree.
The ladies at Sweet Briar College have put their own unique, equestrian twist on this tradition with their annual horseback Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Sweet Briar College student, Annabeth Griffin, sets the scene. “Riding Council members are given the opportunity to adorn their favorite steeds with holly, lights, and bells, and ride down the quad in the center of campus to greet the community as the sun sets. The Sweet Briar choir leads carols as a tree is lit in the center of the quad.”
Janika Carey, Office of Communications for Sweet Briar College, explains that this festive event is sponsored annually by the Student Government Association and the Riding Council. “Before leaving the stables, riders dress the horses for the season, accessorizing their tack with ribbons, lights, and, in some cases, deer antlers. It’s usually quite dark by the time riders and horses reach the quad, where the campus community has gathered around the tree to sing carols. The tree is then lit by a designated person. This year, it was President Meredith Woo. After a few carols, there is usually hot chocolate and cookies!”
Because it was a bit colder this year, the Christmas Tree Lighting After Party moved into the nearby Dining Hall for more fun and fellowship. This event is one of the few times that students are permitted to ride their horses on the quad. Another occasion is during the annual Senior Ride, when seniors ride their horses on the main campus in front of Sweet Briar House and the academic buildings to take pictures.
Sweet Briar College is home to a riding program that has produced wins at USEF-rated competitions. The photo from the 2017 Christmas tree Lighting pictures Makayla Benjamin, the winner of the 2018 Cacchione Cup. The riding program’s areas of focus include Hunter, Jumper, and Equitation competition, flatwork, recreation, training, schooling, fox hunting, field riding, and equine-facilitated leadership.
The college also offers an Equine Studies Certificate, which is similar to a minor degree with two separate concentrations: management, and teaching and schooling. “The program combines a strong liberal arts foundation with preparation for a potential career in equine-related enterprises, such as farm/stable management, horse show management and/or training and teaching. Many riders deepen their knowledge through pre-veterinary courses, internships, and independent projects. Students can choose an on-campus position, such as teaching assistant or trail guide to gain leadership experience.”