Young adults often pack a lot as they head off to college.

In addition to the suitcases of clothes and Ramen, a community college lets students bring a horse to higher ed.

Student Trista Siebenthal said, “My family always joke that it’s in our blood, so they definitely got me started in it and I’ve always been drawn to them since I was a little kid.”

It’s a childhood passion shared with many of sophomore Trista Siebenthal’s classmates.

Student Ezequiel Bustamante said, “Grew up in an ag production, ag business farm in Venezuela and I was involved all my life around horses.”

This riding isn’t just for fun; they’re working toward a degree

But forget the tables and chairs, this classroom is an arena and learning happens on a saddle.

Black Hawk College Equine Instructor Aaron Callahan said, “We have classes going on behind us here pretty much all day every day.”

The horse science technology and equestrian science degrees at Black Hawk College East Campus are unique for a 2-year school in Illinois.

That’s combined with facilities and stables housing 70 horses both college-owned and student-brought.

Black Hawk College Equine Instructor Rebekah Irish said, “Privilege that we get to bring a horse to college.”

Students in the program go to work in the equine industry as a breeder, at stables or products that support the operations, while others continue their education at a four-year university.

The BHC students also take internships to get more hands-on training, and for many, it leads to a career. 

But what makes this program so well known is the acclaim their competitive teams wrangle, all the way up to nationals.

Irish said, “We’re competing against all those big universities, and on the regional level, we have won this region 15 years in a row.”

It’s building on the riding skills and care students learn for horses in the class, with a horse judging team for which Callahan said the college has more world championships than any other higher-ed in the United States and competitive show teams.

Black Hawk College Equine Instructor Sarah Schobert said, “Really large foundation on the Western side of riding, so that’s more the traditional cowboy setting. People typically think about roping, running barrels.”

This year, the college is adding a new team to the roster called Hunt Seat riding, which is in the English tradition.

Schobert said, “More contact and feel with that horse’s mouth and then eventually taking fences.”

It’s a leap helping students with skills for wherever they go.

Student Madison Taylor said, “My hobby anyway, so it kind of just furthers that and then with the judging, you get to learn public speech and things that will help in jobs later on.”

As they plan for a career, the hope of the college is they’ll stay close to home.

Black Hawk College Instructor Drew Cotton said, “We get a lot of people from everywhere, but this area and this ag program was developed and designed to contribute to our local communities.”

The college starts hosting shows in September for the annual Robin Moreland Memorial Fall Speed Shows at the East Campus on  Sunday, Sept. 2, Saturday, Sept. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 20.

The campus is also working on a renovation and building project for the Agricultural and Equine program. 

It will help the program as it grows with more learning and riding spaces, student center, along with additional stalls.