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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

January 28, 2005

Equestrian Center Gets New Director

Several years ago, Mount Holyoke's Equestrian Center was rated "hands down, the finest" horse facility on the East Coast by Town and Country magazine. Running such a topflight operation is no mean feat. The center's 60 horses (34 school horses, 26 privately owned) provide upwards of 1,800 rides per month, accommodating approximately 150 riders in several disciplines. In the process they consume five tons of grain and four tons of hay a month, and go through 240 shoes every six weeks. In addition to normal maintenance, horses keep notoriously irregular hours. "When a horse colics in the middle of the night, it's often me who gets the call," said equestrian center director Paula Fackelman Pierce '94, who came on the job this past July. For Pierce, despite the position's demanding time commitment, it's a perfect fit, allowing her to combine her passion for horses with her professional aspirations.

Horses have always been part of Pierce's life. She grew up competing in horseshows and, while at Mount Holyoke, was captain of the riding team and winner of the prestigious scholar-athlete award. She was a nationally ranked equitation rider, competing at Madison Square Garden and other prestigious venues. After graduating in 1994, she stayed in touch with the College, variously serving as assistant coach of the riding team and dressage team coach. She also helped launch the Intercollegiate Dressage Association, of which the Mount Holyoke team is a founding member.

While continuing to train and ride competitively throughout the 1990s. Pierce pursued a career in health-care administration. She studied child development at Yale for two years and earned an M.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1998. She then moved to the North Shore of Boston and worked for an insurance company outside the city. Three years ago, she and her husband bought a farm in Holyoke that they named Constellation Farm where she began to keep horses. They settled there, continuing to commute to work near Boston. But after a year, Pierce said, "I was tired of commuting four hours a day to a job I didn't like," and she left the insurance company to start her own training and teaching operation based at Constellation Farm. Six months later, in the fall of 2003, she heard that the director of the College's equestrian center was retiring. "I kept my ear to the ground on that one," she said. She applied for the job and was hired in spring 2004.

Pierce's main responsibility is providing high-quality service to the center's three primary constituencies: the athletic program, the community riding program, and the intercollegiate riding teams. Through the College's physical education and community riding programs, the equestrian center gives first-rate instruction to all levels of riders, from those who have never seen a horse before to those who have competed at Grand Prix level. The College's huntseat equitation team consistently brings home national intercollegiate honors, and its dressage team has won the national championship three years running. Buoyed by its competitive success, the Equestrian Center is launching an eventing team, to compete in a sport that involves dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. The excellence of Mount Holyoke's Equestrian Center is no secret: the riding opportunities at the College attract some of the best and brightest high school-age riders in the country.

Pierce's 50- to 60-hour workweeks are seldom routine. She oversees a wide range of activities hosted by the Equestrian Center, including community horseshows, riding clinics taught by outside professionals, and even dog agility trials. She also teaches an intermediate dressage class and has several private students. Along with her MHC duties, she keeps six to eight horses on her own farm.

In addition to the day-to-day operations of the Equestrian Center, Pierce faces the broader challenge of assessing and meeting the facility's future needs and resources. "The Equestrian Center is at an interesting point right now," she said. "Our programs are all growing a lot in size and scope. We have systems in place for what was the Equestrian Center, but the facility is outgrowing those systems. There are three webs interwoven. A change in one area affects the whole." To cite just one example, Pierce noted that it can be difficult to balance the range of horses at the center, many of which are donated, with the needs of the students.

"Suddenly we may find we have lots of upper-level dressage horses and not enough low-level school horses," she said. Pierce sees the important next step as "clarifying the mission" of the center, with input from "as many people as possible -- the staff, students, and the community." The challenge, she said, "is to have this fine resource realize its full potential."

With her lifelong love of horses, her business expertise, and her loyalty to the College, Paula Pierce is up to the job.


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