One of the advantages online education provides students is the flexibility to pursue their passions outside of school. Laurel Springs’ student, Fiona Burkard, has taken advantage of this flexibility by pursuing her passions as an equestrian. Fiona began riding horses and taking lessons at age 5, and in the past few years, has begun training more progressively for competitions.
In addition to competing, Fiona’s passion for horse riding has led her to pursue volunteer opportunities with foster horses. At the barn she trains at, they foster and rescue horses, and give them a new start in the competitive field. She helps provide rehabilitation to the horses and offers them “lots of love.” Fiona says, “Even though I am not directly working with all of the rescue horses, every kid at the barn does a small part by providing the horses with an atmosphere where they are loved and taken care of.” This opportunity has taught Fiona the importance of knowing what to look for in horses to determine if they can be rehabbed successfully and compete again.
Fiona’s volunteer work does not end with the rescue horses. Each year, an oncologist from the Strong Hospital invites his pediatric patients, friends, and their families to his house for a day of fun. This is the third year that Fiona has volunteered at this event by providing horse and pony rides to the children. She spends the entire day teaching them basic information and skills relating to horses. Since horses are flight animals, the children are taught about how to be careful and the skills needed to be a true “horseman.” During the pony rides, Fiona and some of the other volunteers dress up as Disney characters and take pictures with the children.
One of Fiona’s major accomplishments has been the opportunity to work with renowned three-time Olympian, Michael Paige. After taking a clinic with Mr. Paige, Fiona and two other riders were invited to personally train with him. Every four months, Fiona travels to the boarding school stables where he is the head trainer. She feels extremely honored to spend this time with Mr. Paige, since not many riders have the opportunity to do so.
As for her future plans, Fiona knows that she wants to be an equestrian for the rest of her life. Her goals consist of becoming a better rider and improving herself for the future. Since life as an equestrian requires a lot of daytime training, Fiona is grateful for the opportunity to receive an education that allows her this flexibility:
“Attending Laurel Springs Gifted & Talented Academy has allowed me to take the time to pursue the equestrian field. I had the opportunity to live down in Florida for a month and experience the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, an international horse show. I have been taking four lessons a week, during normal school hours, with two different trainers. With my educational freedom, I have been able to take clinics and go on field trips in my field to improve. My academic goals are achievable, because I am still able to devote a large amount of time for my schoolwork before and after going to my equestrian training.”
Fiona’s advice for fellow Laurel Springs’ students is to utilize the freedom to complete assignments and get ahead with coursework when time allows. This creates the opportunity to use the extra time to pursue personal hobbies. Fiona states, “I wish everyone had the opportunity to follow their interests and still be given the opportunity of a highly competitive education.”
Fiona is a shining example of what can be accomplished when you pursue your dreams. We are so proud of Fiona’s hard work, excellent time management, and caring nature shown through her volunteerism. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for her!