Chris Mitchell has no memory of the defining moment that led him to his career as a horse trainer and riding coach. He believes it happened before he was born.
“The joke in my family is that I was riding in the womb,” said Mitchell, who took the reins of Randolph College’s riding program this summer.
His mother, Mary Jane Mitchell, was one of the first female coaches in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). By the time Chris Mitchell was 2 years old, he was accompanying his mother on the horse-show circuit. He never wanted to do anything else.
“I tried to do other sports like basketball or baseball,” he said. “But I always wanted to be at the barn.”
Mitchell’s passion for riding fueled a successful career. For the past 13 years, he led Cornell University’s equestrian team to 27 collegiate team crowns and coached several riders to national competitions. The team won the IHSA regional championships the past two years.
As much as he likes the thrill of victory, Mitchell’s real love is teaching. He is as excited as his students when they master difficult riding skills. “I really enjoy working with the horses and the students and trying to meld them together,” he said.
Caitlin Unterman ’12 served on the search committee that selected Mitchell as the new director of riding. She was happy to see someone with his record and talent become the new coach and believes he will help the program grow.
“Chris is the perfect fit for us,” Unterman said. “He has great motivation to improve our program. I am relieved that I graduated knowing that the riding program is in good hands.”
Mitchell, his wife Martha, and their three children moved to Lynchburg this summer and are enjoying getting to know Randolph’s riders and horses. The family’s thoroughbred horse, Max, also got a new home this summer. He moved into the Randolph College Riding Center. When Mitchell first visited the center in the spring, he knew Max would love living there as much as Mitchell would enjoy working there. In addition to the 100 acres of rolling hills and a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there was a positive feeling.
“All the horses looked happy,” Mitchell said. “When you’re a horse person, you walk into a barn, and you know how the horses feel. If they don’t look happy, then you wonder why. But at Randolph, they all looked happy.”