The MM Experience
Here it is, guys. The review of the school that I created this blog about in the first place. I wrote it as an answer to several questions on several different horse-related forums and even Yahoo Answers, so it might not sound like my usual writing and it’s not addressed to the anonymous internet readers I usually think of as I write. It is addressed to the poor, unsuspecting kids who think that this school is the place they’ve dreamt of since they discovered horses. It’s rather longer than I expected yet still doesn’t cover everything I wanted to say. Funny how that works. Well, here it is:
The MM Experience
I attended Meredith Manor from Summer 2011 to Spring 2013. While there, I completed my Riding Master VI in Jumping, received my Training III, Teaching II and Equine Sports Massage Therapy certifications and stayed for two quarters as a Graduate Assistant. I feel that this qualifies me to speak about the program as it currently operates. I will share my knowledge and opinions on the school as I viewed it from a student’s perspective, then go on to discuss what I noticed about the “behind-the-scenes” operations during my time as a GA.
When I first enrolled I was skeptical. I decided to attend Meredith Manor after getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology. My parents were advocating grad schools while I was searching for working student opportunities. We came to a mutual agreement on Meredith Manor because it offered certificates for doing what I wanted to do as a working student. I sent in my application and was immediately accepted. I was slightly thrown by the ease of the process, but sent my deposit in and scheduled a tour.
I am very glad that I toured, as it was an incredibly eye-opening experience. The brochures will NOT give you an accurate idea of the campus. The online tour is incredibly misleading and not at all up to date. If you are considering applying, TOUR FIRST. I cannot stress this enough. I watched many students drop out within the first week of each quarter because they expected better facilities. Set yourself up for success; know where you are going. If you tour and you don’t like it, move on. There is no point in wasting your money if you are questioning anything about the school. The best way to answer those questions is to tour.
Having said that, Kristen will tell you anything and everything to get you to come, so ask your questions carefully. Be clear and repeat anything you feel wasn’t answered completely. Do not believe everything she says. Double-check it with students and staff members. Rachael, in the office, is a particularly wonderful resource because if she doesn’t know something she will look into it for you. Kristen’s job is simply to get you to apply, nothing more. As a GA, I found it incredibly frustrating (as did most of the riding staff) when she would tell tour groups that they did not need tack or other essential equipment because they could borrow everything. Do not plan to come here asking to borrow things, it will not work. The staff will hate you and so will your fellow students.
My first quarter was somewhat rocky. I was not prepared for the schedule, though I figured it out quickly. The example schedule posted on the MM website is laughable. It leaves out the things you have to do in order to prepare for your classes. Expect to be waking up at three-thirty or four o’clock four days a week. You will have horses to turn out and you will be waiting in line to do so. The earlier you get there, the less of a line there is. I learned that pretty fast.
You will have two stalls to clean every weekday. Expect them to be wet and disgusting. There are no mats or floors of any kind, just a buildup of old pee for a “mattress.” You are not required to clean your stalls on weekends, but I recommend that you do. Mondays are hard enough as is. Digging out a stall that has been left uncleaned with a horse in it for forty-eight hours is not fun. That’s right, the stalls do not get cleaned on weekends or over breaks unless you do it yourself. The bedding isn’t covered, so it constantly gets rained on. When you add fresh bedding, unless there has just been a delivery, it will not be fresh.
The horse care is as basic as it can get. While my horses did not suffer badly enough for me to move them, they are by no means as healthy or as happy as they were when I brought them in. After two months away from the school, they are finally filling out and looking healthier. My horses weren’t the only horses to suffer at the school. I know several students who sent their horses home because of health issues. Almost every horse had some sort of skin condition and there were constantly horses on stall rest due to injuries that occurred in the stall. My mare was constantly losing weight no matter how much we fed her. She was constantly injuring herself in the stall because there were screws sticking through rotten boards. My gelding had constant allergic reactions to the bedding, which was wet sawdust. The few times I asked the Horse Health class to help with these problems I was given unhelpful solutions such as “bathe your horse” or “there’s nothing wrong.” I had to treat everything myself during my time there. For me, it wasn’t a problem because I had prior experience caring for horses, but for students with less experience this was a major problem. My gelding also developed fibromyalgia during his stay there. In horses, fibromyalgia is caused by a fungal infection that works its way into the spine and affects the nervous system. He probably picked it up from the numerous rats and raccoons who hang out in the barns waiting to clean up spilled corn. I am currently treating it will the expectation of full recovery, but it is an expensive and time-consuming treatment.
Which brings me to the next issue. The horses are fed whole corn. While this does provide them with plenty of energy, it does not provide anything else. Think about what corn is. Sugar and starch. We know that for ourselves, this is not a well-rounded meal. We would never eat just corn. Yet Meredith Manor insists that this is the only thing horses should eat. The president of the school, Ron Meredith, will insist that corn contains every nutrient your horses could possibly need. He will also insist that the school has zero cases of colic because they feed corn. This is completely untrue. During my time there, I saw at least six horses colic. That cannot be blamed on the corn, because there are many causes of colic, but the fact that he is comfortable lying about one thing should make you think carefully about other claims he makes. I’ll talk more about that later. For now, just be aware that corn is not as healthy as he claims it is and the school only feeds it because it is cheap, stores longer than most other feeds and provides the horses with enough energy to be used twice a day. It is not a healthy feed for your horses and it will make them wild. Several horses there had allergic reactions to the corn, which forced students to have to buy their own grain. For a school that is supposed to teach all aspect of horse care, there is almost no discussion of nutrition. If asked, instructors will parrot Ron Meredith’s explanation that corn is the best thing for horses and it won’t make them crazy. That’s the entire explanation. No nutritional information. Students are allowed to feed their own horses a different feed as long as they bag it individually for each meal. I did that toward the end of my time here and it was a huge pain because the students did not always give my horses their bags. Right before I left, the staff was discussing making students who wanted to feed their own grain feed their horses themselves at every feed. That’s three feeds a day, every day. Including weekends and vacations.
I think the worst part of Meredith Manor is the atmosphere. Now, this is a very personal and subjective part of my review. Every person is different and therefore enjoys a different type of social environment. I do not like conflict and I tend to be introverted. This made the social tension very stressful for me. The biggest problem was that there was no escape from it because I had to be on campus all day. It’s easy enough to avoid if you ignore people, which is how I dealt with it. I was lucky enough to not have to live on campus, so I could go home to an empty apartment. The drama will wear you down faster than the work. It never ends. If you’re lucky, you can find a few good friends and you can stay busy enough to avoid the worst of the drama. There’s ceaseless drama from the students. Horse girls are incredibly catty sometimes, and when you add to that the limited cell phone service, rural area and small male population there’s bound to be trouble. I used to think that was unbearable, but I later learned that was the easier side of the atmosphere. Most of the staff members are quite involved in the drama, whether it has to do with the students or other staff members. Overall, the school falls well below the professional standards it advertises. Beware of the pressures from some instructors to dislike others. There is an awful power struggle going on and it is very hard to avoid it when the instructors play favorites.
There is a positive side of the school, which is why I stayed. The training knowledge I gained there has proved to be very useful. I do not think everyone benefits the same way, because a lot of the training techniques I learned were intuitive rather than methodical. Being able to read and respond to both horses and people was a very important aspect of it, and not everyone seemed to be able to master or even understand that. It’s not a program that everyone can get the full benefit from because it requires such a high level of focus and independent thinking.
The same goes for the riding program. Anyone can teach the basics, but nobody can teach feel. As such, the Meredith Manor program is designed to focus on beginners. The instructors work hard to give the students a solid foundation with a lot of time spent on the lunge line. While I enjoyed this, you may not. Think about where you are in your riding and whether it is worth it to you to potentially have to back track. If you are already competing and doing well, I suggest avoiding the school. You will not be able to compete while you are there nor will you be able to work toward your competition goals. The school will assess everyone when they come in, and they will probably make you feel like a terrible rider when they place you after the evaluations. Since their focus is on beginning riders, everyone is forced to start at the most basic level possible. Many of the students need this, and I’ll be the first to admit that it helped my feel immensely. But if you are looking to improve your riding in a way that will let you go out and compete immediately, this is not the school for you. As with the training program, my feel was greatly developed here. My body awareness was also heightened, which made everything so much easier. Having said that, once I left I had to do a lot of position fixing. My body awareness made that much easier than it would have been otherwise, and that I do owe to the instructors at Meredith Manor. I am, however, still struggling to break habits that I developed there because ultimately the style of riding they teach there is incorrect by industry standards. While it will keep you on the crazy horses, it will not allow you to progress in your chosen sport because they do not teach development beyond the basics.
The basic theory they teach at Meredith Manor is accurate, but the way they choose to apply it deviates far from the classical base they claim it comes from. You have to go into the school knowing that you will have to check everything you learn for yourself. Do not take anything you hear at face value. Do your own research. That is probably the best advice I can give you. Ask questions, bring in outside articles and videos. Keep up with top riders in your chosen discipline and ask your instructors about them. Evaluate everything. Remember that each horse is unique and this program will not work for all of them. Be aware that this school will add to your knowledge but it will not be the solution to every single horse problem you ever encounter. It is not the only way to work with horses. Go in with an open mind but do not take everything they say as gospel. Having come from a background in psychology, the immediate (and constant) feel I got from Meredith Manor was that of a cult. To avoid falling deeply into the cult and missing the good things, you have to be able to think critically. This is not the place to go if you aren’t willing to put a lot of extra effort into thinking about what you learn.
Ultimately, is it worth the cost? I did not have to get any loans to go to Meredith Manor, so financially it was not a struggle for me. Even so, I would say that it is not worth the cost simply because the money is not put back into the school. While it is expensive, I do not think I would have been bothered by the expense if my tuition had gone to caring for the horses and maintaining the facilities. It went instead to advertising and new cars for the president while the horses suffered and the barns fell apart.
Final vote? If you’re looking for a degree, go to a regular college or university with an equestrian program. There is everything from a major to just a team program, depending where you go. If you’re looking for experience, find a working student job. You’ll learn a lot, do the same amount of work you would at the school and even (in some situations) get compensated for it.