Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When was the International Riding Academy founded?
A. The International Riding Academy was founded in 2008 as The Riding Academy at Lawton Stables, and changed its name in 2011 when the internationally acclaimed Sandra McCarthy joined the team and we opened our doors to boarding students.
Q. What is the mission of iRiding?
A. Our mission is to seek highly motivated and talented riders and develop them to their full potential as competitors at the top junior levels, while upholding excellent academic standards and promoting exceptional characters. We are the only riding academy in the world that combines training, academics and competition for serious junior riders.
Q. What is iRiding Academy?
A. The International Riding Academy (iRiding) is a Full Time Junior Riding Academy whose riders live together and are enrolled at a local college preparatory school where 100% of its students are accepted to a college education. Unlike other traditional boarding school programs, our academy is a dedicated riding academy where students work with our riding coaches each day, building their talents and confidence with our unique approach of training riders on our specially trained hunter jumper horses as well as with the student's own horse. Our riders compete in horse shows throughout the southeast and nationally. We also offer a Summer Riding Camp for dedicated riders who wish to practice and show with us during the summer months. Hilton Head is an internationally known resort that has drawn exceptional junior sports academies because of its location, climate, facilities and safe, family atmosphere.
Q. Can you describe the ideal candidate for iRiding?
A. There is no ideal candidate per se, as there is room at iRiding for a variety of talents and ambitions, but we are well-suited for a child who is between 12-18 years of age, with aspirations to become a college-level rider or more, strong academics, and a desire to pursue a sporting and academic course in the US.
Q. My child is keen on riding but does not yet ride at an advanced level, and has not taken part in competition. Is iRiding a good fit for him/her?
A. There are many factors which go into the decision as to whether iRiding’s program is a good fit for a particular child, but students do not have to possess superior or advanced equestrian skills to do well with us. Our coaching staff will bring out the best in your child, if your child has the desire to learn.
Q. Assuming competition will be an important aspect of the program, what, where and how often will students compete? Do students also need to be there in the summer for the summer competitive season?
A. Students compete as part of the iRiding team on the Interscholastic Equestrian Association Middle and High School team sports. In addition, iRiding believes that horse showing with the rider’s own horse is an integral part of learning to be a good rider, and students show approximately once a month at either the local or regional level. Local shows are usually one-day shows, leaving early in the morning and returning that night. Regional shows typically run Thursday/Friday through Sunday, with the student leaving the night before and staying through Sunday. There may be more or less than one a month depending on the individual goals of each rider. We recommend the student attend some of the summer months, but it is not required. There are many horse shows through-out the academic year. Each student and his or her parents will create a horse show schedule with Sandra McCarthy at the beginning of each year and it will be revised each semester. All horse show travel arrangements are made through iRiding and a deposit based on the schedule each semester will be required in advance of the horse show circuit. Riding instructors travel with the group.
Q. What if horse shows happen out of term time (during vacations)?
A. Each student may continue during the summer on our weekly or monthly program, and arrangements can be made for any national competitions they may qualify for on a case-by-case basis.
Q. What is “hunter-jumper”? Is your focus on hunting or jumping?
A. Hunter and jumper are two different categories, and we focus on both through our training program based on jumping (“how high and how fast”) and equitation (“proper form”). US college programs (IHSA and NCAA) are similarly focused on jumping and “hunt seat” equitation.
Q. Who will be my riding instructor?
A. When students arrive for the fall semester, they are personally evaluated for one week by Sandra McCarthy and her instructors. Students are grouped together by riding ability, age and personality. Students who arrive in the spring will be placed in a group based on the same factors. Sandra will personally oversee each student’s riding, video analysis, horse show schedule and showing.
Q. What is the specialization of your principal coach? Has she competed professionally?
A. Our head trainer, Sandra McCarthy specializes in show jumping, hunters, and hunt seat equitation. She has competed professionally in all of these areas, and has competed in the upper levels of show jumping. She has coached numerous junior and collegiate riders up to the national level.
Q. What is mental coaching?
A. Our staff is DiSC trained, and uses this method to find the best way of teaching each rider based on this or her own individual personality. DiSC is a model of human behavior that helps people understand “why they do what they do.” Sandra McCarthy has also 15 years of experience in helping young riders surmount their fears both in and out of the arena, and mentors each rider to help achieve his or her individual goals. Mental coaching is an integral part of our Academy.
Q. How many staff do you have at this time? How much time does each student get with the head trainer?
A. The maximum students we have are 12. This is because unlike other schools, each student’s primary instructor will be our head trainer, Sandra McCarthy. Each student will also be riding 2-3 horses per day, which means we have to have a lot of horses available and trained for our riders. Our coaches train the horses while the students are at school, and the horses are rotated to maintain their peak conditioning. For this reason, we limit our Academy to 12 riders.
Q. What is unique about your program and horses?
A. The unusual thing about our program is that we provide our students with extremely qualified practice horses as part of the curriculum. This is a huge benefit for two reasons: Firstly, it saves the rider’s competition horse from being over-practiced, and secondly, the value of time in the saddle when learning new skills is immeasurable. Practice is the key to success in any sport, and being able to accommodate our students with extra practice time each day is the key component. In addition, the low number of riders means we have the time and horses necessary to really work in depth with each rider.
Q. How high do you jump?
A. To best answer that question, we need to find out exactly what you are asking. Are you asking how high our instructional staff can jump? If so, our head trainer has competed in the upper levels of show jumping at six feet or more. If you are asking as a prospective student how high we will allow you to compete, that is strictly determined by ability level and goals. We can accommodate riders wishing to compete in show-jumping through grand prix and in the hunter and equitation divisions through the open equitation and medals. We have a variety of horses to utilize for all levels of competition.
Q. Do I have to jump high?
A. Not at all, there are so many different divisions and levels of competition available to riders. Universities look for riders of different levels to compete in their different divisions. A rider jumping cross rails or walk, trot, canter is just as valuable.
Q. What's the difference between hunter and jumper? Are the horses for each discipline differentiated based on size, age, training? Are there "crossovers" (i.e., horses which can be used for both)?
A. The hunter style of riding differs from show jumping in that hunters are judged on style, manners, and way of going and jumpers are judged solely on clearing obstacles within given time constraints. These horses are primarily differentiated by natural ability and training. However, many horses can crossover into both disciplines.
Q. What are the US equivalents to the UK's “3-day eventing” (including dressage), show jumping? Do you coach long distance riding? Dressage?
A. The US uses the same format as the UK and other countries for 3-day eventing, show jumping, dressage, and endurance. Our focus at iRiding is on show jumping, hunters, and hunt seat equitation, however we can also accommodate students who wish to progress in other disciplines.
Q. Are vet services available? How do we pay for them?
A. Yes, vet services are available at the International Riding Academy. Any charges incurred for veterinary and farrier services will be paid directly to the vet or farrier. An invoice will be sent at the time the service is rendered.
Q. Does each student need his/her own horse? Can these be imported? Can you help with this?
A. Yes, each student will need to own or lease their own show horse. Horses may be imported and our staff is able to assist you in making these arrangements.
Q. Does iRiding give guidance as to the type of horse required (size, age, breeding, training)?
A. Every student enrolled in iRiding is given an individual skills and goals assessment by our head trainer, Sandra McCarthy. Horse recommendations are made based on this evaluation. This includes everything from size, breed, and age to temperament, ability, and show experience.
Q. Can you assist with buying a horse locally? How much do they cost, typically? Can I finance the cost?
A. Our iRiding staff are experts at selecting the correct horse and rider match and we are more than happy to assist you with purchasing a horse. A show horse can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to the upper six figures depending on a riders’ goals and budget. It is normally not possible to buy a horse by paying in installments.
Q. Can I lease rather than buy? Is the right quality of horse available for lease?
A. Yes! Leasing is an excellent option, particularly for those who live abroad and will not be staying through the summer. There are many top quality show horses available for lease to suit any ability level.
Admissions and Academics
Q. Is iRiding open to boys and girls?
A Yes – absolutely! Both boys and girls are are welcome into iRiding Academy’s programs and activities.
Q. How is my child integrated into HHP academically? Do you require school records? Do you understand the Mexican school curriculum, and help to provide assistance in re-integration back home after 1 or more years at iRiding?
A. The admissions officer at Prep will require all academic records and be able to assess the history of the student and apply it towards the US equivalent. Prep is an accredited member of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association and is qualified to make this assessment. Prep and iRiding staff also ensure the student qualifies under NCAA college guidelines to be eligible to compete in college.
Q. What are admissions requirements?
A. The Director of Admissions to the Hilton Head Preparatory School will review your application and will normally schedule an interview with you in person or over the telephone. Prep does not currently offer an ESL program, although they work with international students on a case by case basis. Students must be dedicated to pursuing a college preparatory curriculum. Please contact Bobbie Somerville, Director of Admissions at (843) 671-2286, ext 315 or visit their website at www.hhprep.org.
Q. How much assistance do you provide with the US immigration (I-20) process? Do I need my own immigration attorney in the US? Can you recommend one?
A. The admissions officer will apply for the student visa upon acceptance and receipt of the school year’s tuition. No attorney is required.
Q. What academic requirements does HHP set for my child?
A. Hilton Head Preparatory Schools is a rigorous college preparatory school where all students are expected to continue into a college program. To that regard, Prep offers a wide array of classes, including AP (Advanced Placement) classes to best prepare a child for their college education. NCAA also has strict requirements for its student athletes during their high school years, requiring at least a 2.5 average. Prep will help plan the necessary coursework for completion.
Q. Does Prep and/or iRiding assist with the academic transfer of my child into and out of the US system? How do we choose his/her academic courses?
A. The governing body of Independent Schools offers guidelines that Prep must adhere to in the transference of classes from other schools, including schools outside the U.S.
Q. If my child has learning difficulties, or serious challenges to learning, can you accommodate?
A. Prep is able to help children with certain learning difficulties, such as ADD and dyslexia; however, Prep is not equipped for children with severe learning disabilities. Please discuss your child’s needs with the admissions officer at Prep.
Q. Is my child’s standard of written and spoken English important?
A. Yes, all of the coursework will be in English. Prep does not offer an ESL program at this time; however, many students whose first language has not been English have done very well at Prep. Teachers are very willing to offer extra help, and extra tuition and tutoring may also be arranged.
Q. Where would you normally expect my child to be able to gain admission, assuming he/she would like to remain in the US?
A. Each year, the rider’s goals will be discussed with the student, parents and iRiding staff to determine the best direction for the child. We will help make realistic goals and help each child achieve those goals. There are a wide variety of universities and colleges with riding programs, from teams of 150 riders to elite NCAA Division I teams offering scholarships to their top riders. There is always a ‘right fit’ for each student, and we at iRiding and the staff at Prep will help each student find that fit.
Q. Do you help with college admission in the US?
A. College placement at iRiding is a two-part process. Prep will assist each student find the academic school that is the ‘right fit’ academically, and Sandra McCarthy with her extensive knowledge of the college programs will help each student find the ‘right fit’ based on his or her own riding goals for college and the strengths of the individual student. Our iRiding staff members are familiar with the colleges, and are well placed to provide guidance on current admission criteria. In addition, jumpers can now be awarded a High School “letter”, which will assist in the overall assessment of a student’s suitability for college.
Q. What should I bring to iRiding?
A. Necessary Items for School: Backpack, collared shirts (both boys and girls), jeans (with no holes), school supplies, one ‘nice’ outfit.
Necessary Items for Everyday: Toiletries, clothing, flip-flops, alarm clock, favorite blanket, bug spray, suntan lotion, phone, money/credit cards, swimsuit, computer.
Necessary Items for Riding/Horse: Saddle, tack for own horse (bridle, halter, bit, girth, martingale), blankets (light sheet and midweight blanket), show and riding clothes, grooming kit, crops, spurs, etc.
Q. Can I have a car?
A. All students who pass the South Carolina driving test, or have a valid license that is recognized in the State of South Carolina, may have a car with the approval of their parents. No other student is allowed to ride in the car without the permissions of his or her parents.
Q. Is there a laundry service?
A. There is a laundry service available however most students do their own laundry. There is a washing machine and dryer in each house.
Q. Where do students eat?
A. Students have their breakfast and dinner at housing. Lunch can either be prepared by the student with provisions from the house, or purchased separately at Prep. Lunch is given at iRiding on Fridays when the students get out early from Prep.
Q. How do you determine which house I live in?
A. Riders are grouped by age and gender. Each housing is single-sex and there is a houseparent who lives in each house. There is a strict curfew and there is constant supervision.
Q. Is there wireless internet?
A. Yes, housing is wireless, the iRiding facility is wireless and Hilton Head Preparatory School is wireless.
Q. Can my child engage in other sports and extra-curricular activities?
A. It is difficult to accommodate other sports during the iRiding time after school and most Saturdays. However, sports may be arranged during their time off on Sundays and half a day Saturday. Students are required to participate in some community service, and this is done as part of the iRiding program.
Q. As students are co-resident with JPGA students, who has responsibility for iRiding students? What are JPGA’s policies on drugs and alcohol?
A. Students at housing are governed by the JPGA houseparents and by the iRiding staff. The JPGA has a strong policy of enforcing honesty, self-reliance and academic responsibility amongst its students, and does not tolerate drugs or alcohol. Prep rigorously enforces its no-drug policy by bi-annual drug testing, and violation of these policies by the students results in dismissal from the school, housing and iRiding.
Q. What extra activities can the students do in their free time?
A. Houseparents usually plan activities for the weekends that the students may participate in, such as miniature golf, going out to eat, going to a movie, shopping, etc. Each student pays their own cost for these activities. In addition, there is a park with a beach within a few minutes’ walk, and bicycles are provided.
Q. Can special dietary requirements be catered for? Is there an extra charge for this?
A. Special dietary requirements may be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the staff.
Fees and Costs
Q. How do I pay?
A. Once accepted, students and their parents will be mailed an acceptance package. A $5,000 deposit is due immediately to secure their spot, with the balance due at least one month prior to their first day of school. Students paying the full year’s tuition prior to the first day of school shall receive a 5% reduction in iRiding’s tuition. Student housing will also be paid to iRiding, however, tuition to Hilton Head Preparatory School is billed directly by the school and is paid to them by June 15 prior to the academic year.
Q. Do I need to take out US medical insurance for my child? Can you assist with that, or do you have a group policy which we can join?
A. Each rider must have US medical insurance. We can assist if needed.
Q. Are discounts available for multiple students from the same family?
A. We do not offer any discounts at the present time. We understand that the costs of riding our high, but our program actually allows each rider to achieve a higher level of riding at a lower cost by providing the practice horses that most riders usually need to lease or buy on their own.
Q. Are scholarships offered?
A. Scholarships may be offered to exceptional riders and students on a case-by-case basis. Students who are interested in scholarships should speak directly with the admissions office of Prep.
Q. Do you have payment programs (e.g. pay monthly)? How do they work? Do I need to put down a deposit and then finance the rest? Do I leave a credit card on file? Is there an effective interest charge?
A. Both iRiding and Prep have tuition assistance programs. Please inquire. Yes, a credit card must be on file for horse show expenses and incidental expenses, including medical, that may arise. We do not charge interest except for late payments.
Q. How do you handle incidental and additional expenses, such as emergency medical, competition fees and expenses, equestrian equipment and clothing? If I do not want to leave an open credit card on file, are there alternatives? Can you bill me, or can I leave a deposit?
A. It is very easy to open a bank account at the local bank in your child’s name. We can assist you with this.
Q. Can I pay cash for fees/tuition/expenses?
A. Yes, payment may be made by cash, check or wire transfer.
Q. If we want to come to visit iRiding prior to committing, what arrangements can be made? Can we come at any time, by appointment? Where would we stay? Are there hotels locally, and can you help us with this? What are the prices? Will I need to rent a car?
A. Please call the office at (843) 671-2586 to schedule a visit. Our team would love to meet you! You will be interviewed and your riding assessed by Sandra McCarthy or one of her assistants, and your goals and requirements will be discussed. We will also arrange for you to visit the school and the housing. Hilton Head is a premier resort destination and a wonderful vacation for the whole family, and there are many hotels, condos, and houses available at any time of the year. We can help you find accommodation, or you can find suitable accommodation for all budgets and families at www.seapines.com or other rental services. We advise that you rent a car from the airport to enjoy your holiday, although taxis may be used.
Q. What are the closest airports?
A. Students can fly into Savannah, GA (SAV), or Hilton Head (HHH) airport. The only airline flying to HHH is US Airways through Charlotte (CLT). Transportation to and from the airports can be arranged through the iRiding staff.