Jiranek ’52, right, founded Equs, which provides equestrian
instruction to low-income children. (Richard T. Davis/courtesy
Danville Register & BEE)
PROFILE—Robert Jiranek ’52 Sharing
Although Robert Jiranek ’52’s five children rode horses
growing up, it wasn’t until he was nearing retirement that
Jiranek himself developed a full-fledged equine passion. Since leaving
his post as chief executive officer of a modular-house manufacturing
business in 1998, Jiranek has ridden regularly and gone on equestrian
adventures to such far-flung places as Patagonia and Mongolia.
Two years ago Jiranek decided to share his love of horses with
children who otherwise would never have contact with horseback riding.
He started a nonprofit foundation called Equs, which provides equestrian
instruction to disadvantaged youths aged 14 to 18 in the Dan River
area of southern Virginia. About 18 teenagers have participated
so far. They learn to ride, groom, and care for the animals during
sessions on weekends and in the summer. The foundation, which has
55 acres and six horses, would like more children, as young as 10,
Jiranek, president and a board member of Equs, believes that by
working with horses the children will develop character-building
qualities, such as discipline and hard work, and gain a sense of
achievement. He points out that in the Dan River area, there is
a large population of Hispanic immigrants and low-income African-Americans
for whom there are few economic opportunities. As a result, frustration
and anger are widespread, he says, and learning to work with horses
can help diffuse that anger.
“I don’t care how angry you are, when you get on a
horse you have to forget about it. If you don’t, the horse
makes other arrangements,” says Jiranek.
One rider who joined the Equs program last summer is an 18-year-old
boy who attends an alternative public high school for children who
have had behavioral and academic difficulties in traditional public
schools. “He comes on time, he comes properly dressed, and
his attitude is right,” says Jiranek, who hopes that those
qualities will carry over into the boy’s school performance.
Jiranek doesn’t want to have a “tremendous volume
of kids riding horses.” Instead, he would like to see “a
few kids exposed to a whole new universe, who in the process would
become essentially role models for their contemporaries.”
By Carol Zall ’88
Carol Zall ’88 is a freelance writer and radio producer
based in Cambridge, Mass.