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.