Tackling Anxiety One Hoof at a Time By SHELBY WINCH | Feb. 28, 2017

As the majority of campus is fast asleep in their dorm rooms, one student is just beginning her day. Before the sun even rises, Meghan Whaley, a sophomore at UMass Amherst, is getting her hands dirty in a barn stall alongside her four legged best friends.

Meghan Whaley kisses snowflake on the cheek before she starts her barn chores at Hadley Farm in Amherst, Mass. as an apology for not being able to play. Monday, Feb. 21, 2017

Whaley, like a small and select group of her peers, is a student of Stockbridge, UMass’s School of Agriculture. Whaley is pursuing a dual degree in Equine Management, and Sustainable Food and Farming, and spends the majority of her time at Hadley Farm. So, as students are cooped up in classrooms on campus, Whaley is working hands on beside instructors to learn about horse reproductivity, and sustainable agriculture. Her education doesn’t come from textbooks, and Moodle assignments, but from real trial and error.

Hadley Farm, located in Amherst, Mass., boards over 15 horses on 133-acres, and is “the closest thing to home,” says Meghan Whaley, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017.

“The school is so special because students are actually responsible for doing the work they are learning about,” said Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming, Duane Greene. “The best way to learn is by getting a little dirty.” Greene has been a Professor at UMass Amherst since 1970, after graduating from Michigan State with a degree in Horticulture. He has witnessed first hand how the Stockbridge program has helped students, "I've gotten to see so many students find their passion, and then go for it."

Stockbridge offers associate, bachelor, and graduate programs in seven different majors related to agriculture. Students have access to several facilities on campus including three greenhouses, Hadley Farm, and a fourteen acre student run farm that services the UMass Student Farmers Market, UMass Dining Services, and the Big Y Supermarket. The program offers students personal guidance in finding work after graduation, and has internships available for each major. Stockbridge was also recently ranked 8th in the world for agricultural universities, by US News and World Report.

CNS Research and Education Greenhouse at UMass in Amherst, Mass. Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. This room stays approximately 75 degrees all year round, and is home to more than 100 plant species.

But, the Stockbridge program has done more than just prepare Whaley with real world experience. It’s helped her overcome her biggest obstacles. As a child, Whaley was diagnosed with ADHD, social anxiety, and a nonverbal disability. She struggled in school, often feeling isolated and alone, and not able to engage with other students. She began falling behind on her academics, and the idea of attending college one day slowly started to seem like an impossible task.

However, things started to look up for Whaley when her parents agreed to let her attend a horse back riding class. “I immediately fell in love with the fuzzy creatures,” she said, and over time used her work with horses as a release for her social anxiety. Today, it is a school like Stockbridge and the comfort of horses so close to campus that makes it possible for Whaley to live away from home and among her peers. As Whaley stated, while cradling the head of a pregnant mare named Tigger, “Wherever there is a horse, there is a home for me.”

Meghan Whaley (cq), fastens her lucky bracelet in the parking lot of Hadley Farm in Amherst, Mass. The bracelet is inscribed with her deceased horses name. “I really miss him, he was my best friend,” she said while still adjusting the strap. Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

For Whaley, college doesn’t revolve around computers with the latest technology, and big lectures. It’s getting dirt under her fingernails, and knowing her classroom comes stocked with horses and leafy greens.

Meghan Whaley’s hand represents the hard work of a farm hand, pulling hay and grabbing lead lines, and smiling all the way. Hadley Farm, in Amherst, Mass. Monday, Feb. 28, 2017

Meghan Whaley shows off her Horse Showing Ribbons in the parking lot of Brooks Hall at Umass, in Amherst, Mass. "I'm competitive, and I'm not embarrassed to say it," she says with a smile. Monday, Feb. 28th, 2017.

Meghan Whaley won't leave her dorm without her bracelets, saying they help her when she feels an anxiety attack coming on. Brooks Hall of UMass. in Amherst, Mass. Monday, Feb. 28th, 2017.

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