Gap years encourage student growth

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Grace Powers '15 competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.

Two Convent of the Sacred Heart seniors, Grace Powers and Ailish Cunniffe, will take a year off before attending Southern Methodist University (SMU) to pursue their equestrian careers, expand their cultural knowledge, and enhance their learning experiences.
According to Director of College Counseling, Mrs. Erin Ramirez, a student may opt for a gap year to take a more substantial break between the rigorous demands of her high school experience and the increased expectations of the college environment.

Grace Powers '15 competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
Senior Grace Powers competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. Courtesy of Grace Powers ’15

In Grace’s family, gap years are a tradition. Her family encourages taking time off to pursue riding, as Grace’s older sister, Katherine, is currently completing her gap year before she goes to Lynchberg University next fall.
“Gap years are very common in the equestrian world, as the national finals for junior riders are in the fall and it is difficult and disadvantageous to compete in these with the limited practice schedule that accompanies college,” Grace said.
Grace was originally recruited to ride on a NCAA Division 1 team, but decided against competing at the collegiate level. Instead, she chose to continue to compete in horse shows outside of college and will spend next year focusing on the non-collegiate show circuit.
This summer, Grace will compete at horse shows across the east coast. She will also compete at the North American Equitation Championships in the fall. In the winter, Grace will live in Wellington, Florida for four months and train for the Winter Equestrian Festival.
In addition to honing her equestrian skills, Grace will also travel to many countries. She hopes to compete in Europe and experience different cultures. Grace will travel to Australia for the first time while completing a one month program with Rustic Pathways. 
Senior Ailish Cunniffe also competes nationally and trains in Florida for three months each year. She believes that taking a gap year is the best way to focus on her riding career. As it is her last year as a junior rider, Ailish wants to succeed and leave a legacy at the indoor finals next fall. During her gap year, Ailish will compete in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.
“This year is a big year for me as an equestrian. This is my last year as a junior rider so I want to do my best at the indoor finals in the fall,” Ailish said. “The equestrian coach at SMU also encouraged me to take a gap year, so that I am able to compete on the college team as much as possible during my four years.”
To develop her riding techniques and learn about the sport through different cultures, Ailish will travel throughout Europe. She will travel to Brussels, Belgium, Dublin, Ireland and Valkenswaard, Netherlands. This summer, she hopes to explore places that she has never visited such as Aachen, Germany, Rome, Italy and the country of Monaco. Her goal is to ride internationally and eventually represent the United States in world competition.
“A great deal of experience can be gained during a gap year and with that comes maturity,” Mrs. Ramirez said. “Many students who take a gap year report feeling more appreciative of their education once they enter college and have a more concentrated focus on their academics and career aspirations.”
– Arielle Kirven, Staff Writer