Here’s a cool and inspiring thing about publishing books by cool and inspiring horse people–we usually get to find out about all the cool and inspiring things they are doing BESIDES writing books!
In 2022 we published ARENA TRACKS by rider, trainer, and instructor Christian Baier of Southern Blues Equestrian Center outside of Memphis, Tennessee. This incredible reference is the only one of its kind, explaining classical arena tracks and how to use them, on the flat and over poles and fences.
Well, Christian and his wife McKrell are doing amazing work running the BridgeUP: GiddyUP program, a multi-year, multi-disciplinary after-school and summer educational program founded and based in New York City, with specialized programs with unique goals: CORE, STEM, environment, theater in the schools, Boot Camp Company, summer camp, and horseback riding (GiddyUp). With help from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation, it is intended to create a lasting program that will positively impact generations of disadvantaged students.
We had the opportunity to speak with McKrell (“Coach Mac”) about the program and learned a little more about its mission and goals for the young people it serves.
TSB: What is BridgeUP: GiddyUP?
Coach Mac: It’s a program to provide accessibility to the equestrian arts and sciences in urban communities within Memphis. Our efforts are currently focused in the community of Whitehaven through one middle and one high school, serving around 50 students at any one time.
TSB: Who gets to participate in BridgeUP: GiddyUP?
Coach Mac: Any student who goes through the application procedure while in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade at Havenview Optional Middle STEAM School can participate.
TSB: What are the different components of the program?
Coach Mac: Students learn equestrian practical skills (including riding); theoretical knowledge; physical, mental, and emotional fitness; and life-long learning habits (including research and reading for fun!).
TSB: The kids spend a lot of time in the barn and the arena, working with and riding the horses, but tell us a little about the “classroom” space and its purpose.
Coach Mac: Our “den” is designed to support and promote students’ interest in learning about all aspects of the equestrian ecosystem, and to invite the self-reflection necessary to be an excellent student of horsemanship. By providing a simultaneously cozy and inspiring safe space for exploration, we are able to encourage young people to seek out learning as a way to provide themselves comfort and consistency even when life throws them (and us) curve balls.
TSB: What do the students seem to like best about the classroom?
Coach Mac: That it’s a place to be together with their tribe. No matter what happens on any given day in the den, students feel that it’s all a part of their shared experience, and they revel in that. Doing something challenging together and celebrating milestones in achievement, no matter how incremental, is a joy that our entire team takes a huge amount of pride in. Every single day we are together, no matter what lessons are being taught, in the saddle or out, we always share a healthy meal and a moment of gratitude for having the chance to be together with our GiddyUP Family. It is an opportunity that not one of us takes for granted—ever.
TSB: How do books figure into the BridgeUP: GiddyUP curriculum?
Coach Mac: We have always hoped to be a holistic, whole child focused program, even though none of us are educated as “educators.” When working with laptops after school felt like an additional stressor to our kids instead of a support, we were very fortunate to receive the support we needed to shift to providing books the students could select by choice instead. There is something so magical about a book even before you open its pages— just the feeling you get from reading the title, enjoying its dimensions, its cover art, its binding’s texture— everything seems possible, but then it’s actually up to YOU to discover what’s inside. That’s what our GiddyUP library has become— a realm of possibilities that we can go to anytime we need it.
TSB: What is one book you recommend students read in order to become better horse people?
Coach Mac: Apropos…Horses and Riders by Hans Senn is one I’ve always recommended because of how poignant the short messages are. William Steinkraus is my favorite American horseman-author because of his constant empathy for the animal and his straightforward explanation of topics which many tend to complicate, so his Reflections on Riding & Jumping is another. Dressage with Kyra is a go-to because Kyra Kyrklund was Christian’s dressage instructor in Flyinge, Sweden!
We are so excited to follow along as the GiddyUP students progress through the program, some with an eye to eventually competing. You can, too, on Instagram @bridgeupgiddyup
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.