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Grace, Grandeur and Great Things In Store . . .Stephens College



November. Missouri. The American Royal. It is one of the most historic times of the year for the American Saddlebred industry and outside of Tom Bass and Art Simmons perhaps nothing else says "Missouri Saddlebred history" quite like Stephens College.

According to the history of Stephens College, in 1833 Colonel Richard Gentry gathered the prominent male citizens of Columbia, Mo., to discuss the education of their daughters and thus the Columbia Female Academy was founded. Classes for English grammar, moral philosophy, algebra and celestial geography were held in a Presbyterian church.

A $20,000 endowment from James L. Stephens more than a decade later furthered the cause and the school was renamed the Stephens Female College. For five generations the Stephens family would serve the school, with the last member Carl Stephens Otto, retiring from the Board of Trustees in 1998.

Since the days of the wild west, the school has been a forerunner for the education of women in an ever changing world. In addition to being a leader in curriculum development it has also been a pioneer in changing the role women played in society. During World War II the first aviation program for women in this country was introduced.

Stephens College also changed the role that women played in the equine industry. The Equestrian Science Program was founded at Stephens in 1926 by Major Rolf Raynor who also started the now famed Prince Of Wales Club there. As the story goes, during a school show, a Stephens rider was thrown from her horse at the feet of Raynor and Stephens President James Madison Wood. Raynor was quoted as saying that was a "Prince of Wales maneuver," referring to Edward VIII, Prince of Wales who was noted for falling off his steed during steeplechases.

In 1927, nine horses, both English and Western, were purchased for the program to enrich the lives of the girls who studied at Stephens. In 1934, Annie Lawson Cowgill replaced Raynor and she became the first woman to direct the program which then grew from pleasure riding to an academic and show program. While perfecting the art of saddle seat equitation, it was also Cowgill who was instrumental in placing women into the mainstream equine industry as trainers and instructors. Stephens became the blueprint for others to follow.

Cowgill believed that the horse was an instrumental part of the overall development of the young women studying at Stephens. She was quoted in a 1946 article in the school's publication, Stephens Life, as saying, "In a world where clear thinking, forcefulness, confidence, alertness, patience and self-discipline are so important and yet so scarce, it becomes necessary to develop these traits. This can be done through an intimate association with horses."

No truer words could be spoken today.

There certainly wasn't a drop in the talent level when the next head of Stephen's equestrian program took over. Raynor and Cowgill had paved the way, and in 1947 Shirley Drew Hardwicke, a Saddlebred Missourian through and through, took the program to yet a higher level. Her father, Claude Drew, was the trainer and handler of Missouri's legendary Saddlebred stallion Stonewall King. Her mother, Caroline Reed Drew, was known as Missouri's "First Lady of Horsemanship," heading the equitation program at Christian College for some 35 years.

Under Hardwicke's leadership the first courses in stable management and techniques of horsemanship were taught, the first such programs in the country to be offered at the college level. She was also instrumental in getting the barn built at Stephens. She planned school horse shows that were both competitive and entertaining to the public which came out in droves to see the students ride. Hardwicke was also one of the first to host clinics. Professionals like Chat Nichols, Charlie Smith, and photographer H. Leon Sargent were among the guest clinicians.

After a decade of Hardwicke's leadership Stephens' equestrian program had grown to more than 1,000 students with 100 horses, six instructors and a staff of 14. Even more important, Hardwicke helped build and shape the lives of thousands upon thousands of young women during her 33 years of service to Stephens. "Not taking anything away from William Woods, but they turn out horse trainers," said Anna Marie Knipp. "At Stephens there were horse trainers, amateurs and just women who left the school with a love and appreciation for the horse. I had ridden there in the summer program since I was 12 and with school I just rode for physical education classes.

"As well as teaching us an appreciation of horses, Ms. Hardwicke taught us how to be ladies. We didn't wear jeans to the barn and if you had long hair it was to be pulled back. She 'taught' us to write thank you notes to trophy donors in classes that we won. She taught us grace and broader views of the horse industry and life. She never criticized you in front of others.

"Most of all she made sure we were gracious. When we went out in public she told us to always remember we were representing ourselves, our school, and our horses. When you went to school there you saw the names of those who came before you and you didn't want to let them down."

Hardwicke's students were indeed well rounded and close to one another. Many of the Prince Of Wales Club's activities were civic projects and the club participated against other clubs from the school for the yearly "Activity Cup." Hardwicke's group won the Cup five consecutive years and retired it. One such project was Hay Day, a day in which local elementary school children would be invited to the barn for rides.

"We'd line up the horses in the arena and give pony rides. We hitched horses to carts outdoors and also gave the children buggy rides," said Hardwicke in an earlier interview with Stephens College Magazine. "We must have had 250 kids at one time for Hay Day. It was a pretty big day by the time we got all that done."

Through her horsemanship, management, and life lessons, Hardwicke produced an abundance of quality women trainers, owners and industry professionals. They have been, and continue to be, tops in their endeavors and also stay loyal to their alma mater and one another.

"I owe my whole career to Stephens," said Fern Bittner, licensed judge, steward, and manager of many top shows including the American Royal and the Morgan Grand National World Championship Horse Show. "If it weren't for Shirley [Hardwicke] I wouldn't be where I am today. My first experience with managing shows came at Stephens when I was vice-president of the Prince Of Wales Club and Cecile Dunn was secretary. We put on two shows a year.

"I was a day student there and I was going to go on to the University of Missouri because that is all my parents could afford. Shirley said, 'nonsense, you can get a scholarship teaching equitation at one of these schools.' I didn't know anything about that. She got me a few interviews and with my parents, we went to Lindenwood which had a riding program but it wasn't going that semester because they didn't have an instructor. I got a scholarship, taught riding and got my degree. Marsha Garone was one of my students. "I also put on a small show at Lindenwood which we later moved to a bigger facility. The Saddlebred and Hunter show became AHSA approved. After spending nearly 30 years there the school closed and I thought my world would come to an end. However, with the experience I had putting on those school shows I went into horse show management and you know the rest of the story."

Hardwicke's storied career at Stephens is a huge chapter in the school's history but it didn't end with her. When she retired, Stephens alumnae Cecile Dunn took over and headed the equestrian program for six years. She was followed by Deborah Booker. Over the past few decades young professionals like Liz McBride Jones, Ellen Beard Arnold and Brenda Benner left their mark on the program, each adding to the history of excellence provided by Stephens students.

"I enjoyed my four years there very much," said McBride-Jones. "What amazed me the most is the networking of the school. There are so many people connected to Stephens in some way. No matter where you go it seems like you run into someone who went there or knew someone who did."

"It was a very gratifying experience," said Brenda Benner who served 13 years. "I was very involved in the student's lives which was something new to me. Everywhere I had worked before they always told me I should be an instructor. I guess I was doing that before I got to Stephens without even knowing it. I was very proud of the influx of horses while I was there. I got to take combinations to Louisville and win good ribbons."

Growing up with the Shively's DeLovely Farm in Rockport, Ind., Ellen Beard [Arnold] spent two years teaching at Stephens, and it was the experience of a lifetime for her in many ways. Beard, along with Karen Shelton [Rader], were a couple of individuals who considered themselves extremely lucky to have both studied and taught at Stephens.

"It was the greatest time I've ever had,"said Beard. "Stephens just had a different atmosphere than other equestrian schools. It was more of a sisterhood. People were really genuine. I had some great students like Susi Rambler [Day], Erin Rudder, and Julie Kaufman [McConnell]. We had a lot of fun and at the same time I felt like we accomplished a lot.

"Also the Columbia area was really unique. One of the greatest things I've ever done as a professional is have lunch with Art Simmons. He took me to 'his restaurant' and we had lunch at 'his table.' To go to his barn and see all of the pictures in his tack room and then have lunch and discuss horses with him. I'll never forget it. He was a supporter of the school." Today Michele Smith heads the Equestrian Department and Lynn Frazee serves as the Saddle Seat instructor. She is currently out tending to family medical matters and Sharon Backer is filling in. Under the direction of new Stephens College president Wendy Libby there is renewed interest in revitalizing the equestrian science program. It is one of four new programs which offers a bachelor's degree.

The Equestrian Business Management Bachelor of Science program is already in existence. It offers the core Business Administration classes and the core Equestrian Science classes. This major is geared toward the student who wishes to pursue a career in show or stable management, retail and other equine related fields.

A student in their fourth year may take three graduate classes and apply for a fellowship through Stephens for a Masters in Business. This is offered to the student without cost. A student must have maintained grades no lower than a B- in the required courses.

The Equestrian Science Bachelors of Science major is a revival of a program that was offered several years ago. This is geared towards the student who wishes to train, ride, and teach. This was a very popular major and Stephens hopes to make it so again. There is also a University of Missouri Animal Science minor in the works right now. Stephens is opening their program for University of Missouri Animal Science majors to take an Equestrian Science minor.

An Equestrian Science Bachelor of Arts is a program which will appeal to students interested in therapeutic riding and other types of therapy involving horses. Students will complete three years at Stephens and then go to Washington University to complete their Masters in Professional Occupational Therapy. In their fourth year they will receive a B.A. degree from Stephens.

Lastly, there is an Equestrian Science/Animal Science Dual Degree program with the University of Missouri. This is also a reinstatement of a program that was available several years ago. Students may major in Equestrian Science at Stephens and Animal Science at the University of Missouri. They will have advisors on both campuses. This program is for the student who wishes to work not only with horses, but with other large and small animals with the thought of working for large feed companies or large farms that have several types of animals.

"We have the administrative support behind us and we want to build the program back up," said Michele Smith, director of Stephens College Equestrian Program. "The school and the program have so much history and we will again be going out and taking part in expos and horse shows. "A group of alumnae has formed a group called Friends of Equestrian (FOE) and they have raised $80,000 which will go towards restoring the doors on the barn, windows, bleachers and other upkeep.

"Our goal right now is to increase enrollment and provide students with the means to make it in the business. We are also looking for horses to be donated. Currently we have 17 majors and 11 minors with 45 students riding. I'd like to see us get back to having 25-30 majors again."

"The new president has been very supportive of the equestrian program," said Anna Marie Knipp. "She is aware of its history with the school and what it can do for Stephens."

For those looking for an education in the horse industry, Stephens offers a great opportunity to learn in a beautiful and historic facility. There are two grand brick barns with 51 stalls, an indoor arena which measures 100 x 200, and a large outdoor ring. The facility sits on 16 acres right in town and provides ample turn out areas.

Over the next few decades there's no telling what names will be added to the list of distinguished alumnae, but with the proud heritage which is already in place, the dedication of the current administration and the determination and support of students past, Stephens is sure to continue turning out bright, well rounded, professional young women with a passion for horses, prepared to excel in whatever their endeavor.

Stephens College Alumnae: Leanne Adams, Ellen Beard Arnold, Jane Bennett, Kathy Lyda Berger, Fern Palmer Bittner, Anne Tiegler Boschult, Rochelle Goode Brannon, Paula Briney, Margaret Ruth Cowgill, Susi Rambler Day, Rita Diekroeger, Ruth Drips, Cecile Kirby Dunn, D.D. Dutel, Dorothy Dukes Ford, Karen Swezey Frickey, Sue Gethicker, Maxine Gill Glenn, Debbie Hagerman, Sue Hammond, Jodi Higdon, Joan Robinson Hill, Kelly Hulse, Sally McClure Jackson, Wendy Wagner Johnson, Bev Buchanan Jones, Lib Jones, Marjorie Judd, Liz Kinney, Anna Marie Knipp, Gayle Lampe, Joy Lazarus, Jean Mead-Lewis, Sally Lindabury, Judy Marks, Julie Kaufman McConnell, Cynthia Medcap, Karen Minnick, Mary Murdock, Linda Nichols, Ellen Ogletree, Cherie Ort, Alice Page, Shirley Parkinson, Mindy Partee, Glenda Pugh, Jeanette Rabbit, Karen Shelton Rader, Marilyn Ray, Peggy Richardson, Helen Rosburg, Claudette Roth, Erin Rudder, Nancy Gladish Schatzberg, Judy Shepard, Kendall Sheperd, Mary Jane Simmons, Heather Stumler-Tye, B.J. Taylor, Shelia Verian, Amanda Ward, Linda White, Cindy Willimon, Barbara Woods, Linda Woods, Renae Van Zomeren,

(Editor's Note: The following list of Stephens College alumnae who went on to participate in the equine industry was compiled from different research and interviews. Any omissions are not intentional.)

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