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Fall 2003

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Good horse. Good home. Priceless.

Munching hay in their roomy box stalls at Van Lennep Riding Center, Skidmore’s riding-program horses look content and glossy. Some may be a little long in the tooth, but, hey, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth—and most of the program’s thirty-two horses are gift horses, according to Cynthia Ford, the program’s director. None were purchased.
Fundraiser Don Blunk and riding director Cindy Ford show off the lively Mahala, one of Skidmore’s top horses.
     Technically considered “tangible gifts,” the horses are among the 100 to 150 items (from real estate to rare books, plumbing to potted plants) given to the college each year. An important incentive for donors is the potential tax deduction on the appraised fair-market value of the gift, explains Donald Blunk, Skidmore’s director of planned giving. Another benefit, adds Ford, is the assurance that “their good old friends and show horses will be happy and well taken care of.” In fact, she says, “we have an awesome reputation for keeping horses until it’s time for them to retire and then finding them good homes.” One gleaming example is Obediah, still a popular schoolmaster at twenty-five years old. “We’ve had him ten years, and his owner still sends him a birthday card and a new monogrammed blanket each year.”
     Thanks in part to the college’s five national championships in intercollegiate riding and its AA-rated Saratoga Classic horse show, “we are becoming one of the first places that horse owners, judges, and professionals think of to donate a horse,” says Ford. In the past five years she has accepted nearly two dozen, ranging from a five-year-old Oldenburg gelding to a veteran quarterhorse, from a pony named Lizzy to a large Dutch Warmblood. From gentle “beginner” horses to show-ring stars, they come to Skidmore for any number of reasons—perhaps outgrown by young riders, perhaps unable to compete at desired levels.
     Whether a horse’s value lies in the $5–10,000 range or soars to bigtime show-ring heights, each must meet two sets of criteria: Blunk’s and Ford’s. “The IRS mandates a very strict process for evaluation,” explains Blunk. “Typically, we use the average value from two appraisals.” For Ford’s part, “The horse must be safe. No biting, kicking, bucking, or rearing.” Both agree that, to be accepted, gift horses must be usable in Skidmore’s riding programs. (Says Blunk, “If we were to accept a horse and then turn around and sell it, the IRS would consider us a dealer and the donor’s tax deductions would be reduced or denied.”) To earn their oats and horseshoes, horses take part in one or two daily riding classes; beginner-level horses may also be used in additional lessons. Many compete in varsity horse shows, where Skidmore’s already strong record has been boosted by the caliber of some recent gifts, including a Medal-Maclay finalist or two—the kind that compete in Madison Square Garden.
     When such top-of-the-line show horses first arrive, “they may not be ready for beginners, or for two different people riding them each day,” says Ford. So she picks out promising students who get to bond with and school these special horses. “We were given a beautiful horse who was stopping at jumps; our student schooled him every day, and now she’s showing him in adult hunter classes over low fences. He’s happy, she’s delighted. Come fall, he’ll be ready for two riders a day.” That kind of one-on-one rehab is a great education and a big responsibility, she says, adding, “Riding and good students go hand in hand. These kids can’t be careless, and they can’t phony their way through this.”
     At intercollegiate horse shows, where host schools supply mounts for all competing riders, Skidmore horses have earned approving mentions in the horse-world bible, The Chronicle of the Horse. “Watching the horses perform well at different levels, for all different riders,” says Ford, “I’m as proud of them as I am of my students.” —BAM


© 2003 Skidmore College