Don’t Count Ponies Out

Big Ben and Ian Millar

Most horse people are familiar with the legendary show jumper Big Ben.  Ridden to nearly 40 Grand Prix show jumping titles by Ian Millar, the 17.3 hand Belgian warmblood gelding also represented Canada at the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympic Games and is one of only two horses to have been inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.  (The other is the racehorse Northern Dancer.)

Yet despite his numerous accolades and honors and the stories of the adversity he overcame with two severe bouts of colic and a near-fatal trailering accident, what most people think of when they hear the name “Big Ben” isn’t necessarily what a tremendous competitor the big chestnut was, they think of how large he was in terms of physical presence.  Granted, with a name that already has the word “big” in it, that makes it all the more easy to focus on his size, but even if the gelding had shown under his original name (Winston – after the legendary Winston Churchill), I think it’s safe to say that we still would associate the famous old campaigner with being literally larger than life today.  (Millar once described the gelding as “a skittish elephant” – a nod to his size and his nervous temperament.)

Major universities are kind of like Big Ben.  We’ve all heard of them – whether it’s because they have a well-known football team that wins a lot of games, or because they are a school with a long history and a name synonymous with Ivy League education, or even simply because the name of our home state is a part of their name too (“The University of___”).  As a result, when it comes time to plan your college search, you automatically add them to your list of potential colleges, simply because it’s a name you’re already familiar with.  In addition, if you’re already attending a large high school, it makes logical sense to you to continue your education at another large institution, which most state universities are.

Stroller and Marion Coakes

It’s like with Big Ben – he was a big horse who jumped big fences.  Big plus big seems to equal big in the end, right?  Right.  But before you limit your college list to only big schools (and your horse list to only full or oversized horses!), let me ask, have you ever heard of Stroller?

Less famous than Big Ben and certainly smaller (a mere 14.1 hands, which makes him 14 inches shorter than Big Ben), Stroller was a Connemara/Thoroughbred cross pony owned and competed by British rider Marion Coakes in the mid-1960s.  She rode him in the junior jumpers until she turned 18 and progressed into the adult classes and then, much to everyone’s surprise, she continued to raise the fence heights and Stroller continued to clear them!  In 1968, Coakes and Stroller won the Olympic silver medal in Mexico, just four faults behind Bill Steinkraus and Snowbound – over a course than included a 6 foot oxer with a spread that measured 7 feet three inches wide!  In addition, Stroller remains the only pony ever to have won the Hickstead Derby.

I suspect that you may not have heard of Stroller before reading this blog entry – but I bet you’re pretty intrigued by his story now!  Check out this brief video of he and Marion from 1965: 

Small colleges can be a lot like Stroller, both in physical stature and in terms of name recognition.  With only a few thousand students as compared to the tens of thousands that you often find at major universities, a small college might seem on the surface to have less to offer you simply because it can’t boast the sheer number of students, majors, and facilities as its larger competitors.  In addition, many small colleges have Division III athletic programs – and those don’t tend to make the news as often as their Division I brethren. But once you set foot on a small college’s campus, you’ll often discover that they have a lot to offer their students – often more opportunities than the big schools!  So no matter what size your high school is, you owe it to yourself to include schools of all sizes on your college visit list so that you can find out once and for all what size and type of school will best fit you.

It’s exactly like shopping for a horse; you might start out your search looking for something like Big Ben – a large warmblood that’s already demonstrated he’s capable of jumping bigger fences – but if your trainer finds you something more like Stroller – small, quick, and incredibly willing to try – you might just discover that the horse of your dreams looks nothing like what you originally imagined.

And if you need help searching for the college that will be your just right fit, contact me.


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