Head of the Class, named Princeton by all who knew and loved him, entered the program at Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center
in Chagrin Falls, Ohio in November of 1991. He was 16 years old having served his former owner as a foxhunter for many years. For the next 19 years, until his death in 2010, Princeton was an active member of the Fieldstone therapy team.
The gray gelding had the "patience of a saint" "“ not what you might expect of an Arabian
/Thoroughbred cross. He was quiet and gentle for beginner riders, yet still challenging for our more advanced riders. Princeton was truly a versatile horse "“ you could always rely on him," said Fieldstone's Executive Director Lynnette Stuart. "His dependability made him one of our all-time best therapy horses".
Stuart first met Princeton when she was the Head Instructor at Fieldstone. "I chose Princeton regularly for my students because of his consistency and patience. Because of his active gait, he was an ideal choice for students with attention issues. His animated motion also helped to teach many riders how to post," she said.
He was trained in both direct and indirect reining and also responded well to voice commands. These traits made him suitable for a wide range of riders from beginners to advanced.
His movement naturally helped to keep his riders' attention. He was perfect for students who were learning how to canter because he would transition with minimal cues and then produce a nice, consistent, rhythmic canter.
As a team player, Princeton worked with thousands of children and adults with disabilities over the years, in riding and ground lessons, hippotherapy (physical or occupational therapy on horseback) lessons, trail riding, drill team, parades, summer camp activities, Special Olympics
and horse shows.
Princeton was exactly the kind of therapy horse that many programs are forever searching for. He didn't require any special care, even in his later 30+ senior years. "You would have never guessed his age based on his heath and personality. He was always extremely healthy and sound," recalled Stuart.
Princeton never missed a beat and it was clear that his priority was always to take care of his rider. To him, his therapy work was more than riding around in circles. He kept track of his students and would shift or stop if they became unbalanced. He was the first to spot something unusual in class, but there wasn't a spook in him. This helped all of the other horses stay focused as well.
And, he was unflappable too. One afternoon, a student was grooming Princeton and started to feel very overwhelmed, flinging himself at Princeton's front hooves. Princeton never flinched or moved a muscle while the instructor calmed the student and moved him to safety. Most horses would have reacted to this type of sudden noise and movement, but the best therapy horses have a "sixth sense" and know what to do in these unpredictable situations.
It was a shining time for him and all who loved him when he was awarded the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship
International Equine of the Year Award in 2007 and selected to demonstrate vaulting the national conference for 500 attendees.
"Princeton had a very large heart and shared it with everyone who had the pleasure of working with him," remarked Stuart.
Exceptional therapy horses love their job. They are truly hooved heroes! Our program was so lucky to have our hero, Princeton!