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Updated: 11/15/2017 08:30:03AM

Equestrian program constantly growing

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Ken Allen browses through a book of pictures presented to him from last year's dressage team, part of the equestrian program at Summerlin Academy in Bartow.

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(Ken Allen never actually owned a horse growing up in Bartow, but lots of his friends did. And that started a life long love affair with the animal, a love which dozens of students at Summerlin Academy benefit from today. Allen, along with the schools full-time ag teacher Marie Fussell, combine their efforts, not to mention knowledge, to make equestrian one of the most unique elective high school courses not only in Polk County, and not only the state of Florida, but virtually the whole United States. From the equestrian program comes a competitive team of dressage riders, who compete four times a year, and who spend hours with Allen at his horse farm. Their first show comes up Thanksgiving weekend in Tampa, with two shows in late winter in Gainesville and the regional competition, which draws riders from seven states, in Perry, Ga. Allen’s High Gait Farm, where students enrolled in the equestrian class are bused two or three times a week, is tucked among the orange groves east of Homeland. On the school days they aren’t on the farm, students are in the classroom in what, as Allen explains it, isn’t a course that’s just a one-semester commitment. It just so happened when Allen retired from the Department of Agriculture in 2004, he was thinking of opening a riding school. Coincidentally, at about the same time, the administration at Summerlin was interested in adding an equestrian component, and the two sides have been together ever since.)

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