Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

February 14, 2007:

Robert Jiranek ’52

Robert 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 a passion

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, to join.

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.” P

By Carol Zall ’88

Carol Zall ’88 is a freelance writer and radio producer based in Cambridge, Mass.