Steven Dennis ‘17: From Navy to the Equine World

Written by Wendy A Varisco

By Erika Ikeda ’21, Advancement Office Intern
Steven Dennis, currently working as Volunteer Coordinator at Chastain Horse Park in Atlanta, Georgia, graduated from St. Andrews University in 2017. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International featured Steven in their Black History Month publication. (Click here to view the article on Chastain Horse Park’s Facebook Page.)

PATH Intl’ introduced Steven to the equine world; he participated in its therapeutic riding program after getting injured during his service in the U.S. Navy.

He then decided to study therapeutic horsemanship at St. Andrews and joined the SAU Equestrian Team with a passion for giving back to the therapeutic riding community. 

When asked what brought him to St. Andrews after his experience in PATH Intl’s program, Steven said, “I wanted to find out if there were any institutions that catered to learning about horses. After some research online, I discovered several schools did just that. St. Andrews was the top school for equestrian studies and wasn’t too far out of state for me. The size of the campus and class sizes were also a big draw, as having that one-on-one time with professors would be a great benefit.”

      (Steven working at Ride Like a Knight program)                       (Steven riding in an IHSA competition)                                                     

The biggest challenge for Steven at St. Andrews was adjusting to an unfamiliar environment with new people. He added, “My time in Naval service allowed me to adapt fairly quickly and opened the door for me to discover the amazing equestrian program.”

When asked to name some people at St. Andrews who inspired him to pursue his career as a therapeutic riding instructor or influenced his work ethic, he answered, “First was Dr. Bushoven. He helped me learn the value of intense study and hard work. Professor Stephanie McDavid inspired me to follow my heart when it came to choosing my major and minor courses, something that I had been struggling with my first and second years.” On the equine studies front, he continued, “Pebbles Turberville and Peggy McElveen were also great influences. Thanks to Pebbles, I learned more about PATH Intl. and would take several therapeutic riding courses under her. Peggy was also very supportive, and I never would’ve had the chance to ride if not for her.”

The competitive experiences of riding in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association brought a new perspective for Steven: “Riding in the IHSA was a dream come true for me. A whole new world of riding opened up to me. It was really amazing watching my teammates command such presence on their horses, no matter who we were competing against. I yearned to get better as a rider so that I could be just as competitive. As we traveled to different schools to show horses over the years, I did my best to learn from every rider I would see compete at different levels. Eventually, our team qualified for Semi-Finals and then Nationals. I couldn’t believe I had come so far in such a short time. The whole experience really showed me that anything is possible and that there’s more than one way to succeed. All it takes is a push in the right direction.”

(Steven and his IHSA teammates at graduation)

Steven started to work at Chastain Horse Park as a volunteer, and recently, he has been promoted to Volunteer Coordinator. He says the academic aspect of the St. Andrews Equestrian Program prepared him for his post-graduation career at Chastain: “Getting hands-on experience with the Ride Like A Knight program was very important in making the transition to Chastain a smooth one. We work with similar participants with special needs, and it has definitely aided me in my endeavors. If I had not taken the time to learn about equine management and horse behavior, I likely would’ve had a tougher time.” 

Steven also faced new challenges and experiences that he did not encounter as a student at St. Andrews when he began his work at Chastain Horse Park. He said, “As time passed and I began taking on new roles, I discovered I would need to continue learning and working on my teaching methods, something I had not encountered at St. Andrews. Also, there is an entire administrative and logistical side to the program that I was unaware of, but the wonderful staff at Chastain have been great at getting me up to speed.” 

Steven hopes to become a Path Certified instructor, paving his way in the therapeutic riding industry and at the Chastain Horse Park. “Once I become certified, I plan to continue working at Chastain and learn even more so I can qualify for the Advanced and eventually Master Therapeutic Riding Instructor. Acquiring all this knowledge and experience, I believe, will be paramount to my ultimate goal of owning my own horses and helping more people learn the amazing healing power of these wonderful animals.”

Since his introduction to horses during his injury treatment, Steven took advantage of every opportunity to grow to his full potential as a professional in the therapeutic riding world. St. Andrews fostered his love for horses and enthusiasm for learning, and Steven’s passion for therapeutic riding will enable life-transforming riding experiences for many people to come.  

“I want to give my thanks to St. Andrews and its amazing equestrian program and staff. If not for them, I would not be in such a good position to succeed at Chastain,” he said. “As an alumnus, I will always do my best to support the institution and will never forget that I started with zero horse knowledge and now am on my way to becoming a knowledgeable, certified therapeutic riding instructor.”