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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Are Riding and Music Genetically Connected?

Kate McManis is trying to determine a connection between musical talent and horseback riding. (Contributed photo)
Kate McManis is trying to determine a connection between musical talent and horseback riding. (Contributed photo)

VI College Equestrian Conducting Research

March 16, 2010

*** Reprinted by permission from the Virginia Intermont College alumni magazine, Winter 2010. ***

BRISTOL, VA — Virginia Intermont College junior Kate McManis [who is majoring in equine studies with a minor in math] is researching her Honors Program thesis seeking to determine a connection between musical talent and horseback riding. She is examining innate/genetic characteristics of people with exceptional abilities, specifically natural musicians and riders.

It is not surprising that she chose this topic. She excels at riding, is a member of VI's IHSA competitive riding team, and both of her parents are musicians. She has also encountered many other riders with musical family backgrounds.

Riding is a very rhythmical activity, she points out. "A rider must learn to feel the patterns and sequences of the horse's footfalls at different gaits and further understand how to influence those sequences," she says. "For some people this feeling is completely natural; it never needs explaining. These riders function as one with their horse. Others may ride for years and never develop this sensitivity. Musicians, obviously, also rely on rhythm and tempo when playing, conducting or composing, and nearly everyone is familiar with the difference between a musical prodigy and a person with absolutely no sense of rhythm whatsoever. Perhaps it is the same genetic predisposition simply harnessed by different personality characteristics or interests."

Kate plans to narrow her focus on the existence of natural ability versus trained ability and then seek connections between activities. For the research, she is interviewing and surveying fellow students and other riders, and she is obtaining information from both riding and music professionals. With guidance from biology and psychology professors and through contacts with genetic researchers, she is also investigating brain structure and genetic influences on exceptional abilities.

The Honors Program, with opportunities for such challenging pursuits, drew Kate to Virginia Intermont, along with VI's exceptional program in equine studies. She is relishing her experiences.

"I have the freedom to pursue independent interests, to specialize and really be in control of my own education," she says.

She was used to freedom, control and specialization before she arrived. Home schooled virtually her entire primary and secondary education, Kate grew up in Flower Mound, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. She excelled in math, science and logic, enrolled in a special math and science academy for home-schooled children and pursued challenging courses her senior year at the local community college. She loves problem solving and puzzles, as well as horses. She has been riding since she was 8.

VI's professors "continue to push me," she says. She has a job with a local nationally-recognized horse trainer, which she hopes will be the beginning of a professional career in the industry. She is also exploring her more creative side through poetry and creative writing as a member of the campus Poetry Club. In addition, while pursuing a minor in math, she tutors other students on the subject.

"At VI, I get the best of both worlds: My horses are my everything, and I am a contributing member of our competitive teams, yet my intellectual interests are growing, and I am being pushed to think, be creative and speak my voice."