Forest Parker Miranda Binns-Calvey’s college checklist looks something like this: Clothes, check; laptop, check; school supplies, check; saddle, check; 12-year-old American Quarter Horse mare, check.

 Miranda, a graduating senior at Proviso Math and Science Academy, will transport her horse, Sugar, across the U.S. this fall to Dillon, Montana, where she will start as a freshman in the equine studies program at University of Montana–Western. 

“We told her she would have to leave Sugar behind when she went to college, but she found a program where you are required to bring your own horse,” laughed her mother, Amy Binns-Calvey. 

The family will pack up Sugar and head west with a horse trailer at the end of the summer. They will stay in special “horse hotels” where traveling equines are stabled overnight.

Of course these things can change, but as of now, Miranda plans to co-major in equine science and theater, she said.

Sugar, whose official American Quarter Horse Association registry name is My Special Priority, is boarded in a Palos Park stable, where Miranda travels several times a week to train and ride her.

She also competes in shows in New Lenox at Francis Field, in Fox Valley and at the DuPage County Fair. 

“She won a chunk of change recently,” said mother Amy. Miranda’s horseback tricks include crossing the ring on Sugar’s back, balancing an egg in a spoon or carrying water from a cup without spilling a drop.

Yes, the hobby has been expensive, parents acknowledge, but Miranda helps pay for her own equipment: the silver-bedecked show saddle perched on a stand in their Circle Avenue living room was paid for with Miranda’s own money, Amy said. 

“Then there are the chaps, the show shirts, the cowboy hats,” Miranda said.

After Miranda’s lackluster early childhood reaction to ice skating, gymnastics and softball, Miranda’s parents realized something was clicking when their daughter got into the saddle at age eight. 

“She was share-boarding a horse then, and she just loved it so much,” Amy said. “We are thrilled she is going to college to do something she really loves,” Amy said. Miranda has owned Sugar for two years.

In Montana, the students learn “natural horsemanship” a more humane set of training techniques made popular since 1985 after the movie The Horse Whisperer.  

“It’s a different form of training as opposed to what has been a traditional way of breaking horses by hobbling etc.,” said Amy. “I think the whole industry has moved toward that philosophy.” 

Miranda will also get to “break” a colt her junior year, using kinder and gentler methods without punishment. Instead of horse shows, she’ll be attending rodeos.  

Miranda has been practicing by riding sans bridal on Sugar, using her body instead of the reins to guide the horse.

Girl and horse share a bond. “She’ll start to nicker when I get near the barn; she knows I’m coming,” Miranda said.

Sugar has a strong personality, though.

“She hates other horses, except one other mare at the barn she’s sort of friends with,” Miranda said. Sugar also gets feisty when other people ride her, Miranda said. “If my friends try to ride her, she’ll ignore what they’re telling her to do and walk back to me,” she said.

“I think Sugar will be getting her own college education at Montana-Western,” Amy said. 

Finding the right college was a challenge, but Miranda said she knew she wanted to get away from home to start a new, independent life. Miranda wants to run her own horse barn someday. A college visit exposed her to the big-sky and open fields of Montana, she said.

“It was so beautiful there.”

One thing she noticed about the Montana crowd though as opposed to racially diverse Forest Park and PMSA: 

“There isn’t much diversity. I’m used to being among the only white kids in my class. I’ve been to lots of ‘quinces’ with my Mexican friends and I have lots of black friends,” she said. “That’ll take getting used to.”

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...