Kim Carter (’96)

I often joke after staying up all night with a sick horse, after repairing freeze-damaged plumbing, after cleaning a stall: this is my Wofford diploma at work. But I’m really not kidding. A liberal arts education is, to me, a method of inquiry, of living, that allows me to assimilate knowledge, often from the most unlikely and disparate sources. Wofford taught me how to learn.

When I thought about opening a riding stable, I asked myself how I could re-create the intellectual atmosphere I discovered at Wofford. How could I make that atmosphere available to children who might not be able to attend college?

I founded Bramblewood Stables, Inc. under the premise that a liberal arts education does not begin in college. The close-knit community of the horse world is a type of secondary education that arrives, for many children, while they’re still in elementary school. The seed of my own philosophical inquiries began around a barn when I was a young girl striving to find communication with another species in riding lessons, cleaning stalls, or distributing grain and hay in early morning feedings to mitigate the cost of those lessons.

My father’s declining health necessitated me sticking close to home my first year, so Wofford was the only college I applied to – thankfully I was accepted. The hour commute from northern Greenville county to Wofford took me past the gates of Furman every morning. I had lived in Furman’s dorms for a summer while attending the then six-week SC Governor’s School for the Arts where I discovered it wasn’t the atmosphere I enjoyed so much as the instructors: Dr. Deno Trekas and John Lane. Early success in poetry gave me a further taste of the college atmosphere as I attended Greenville’s Fine Arts Center along with numerous writing workshops at universities across South Carolina.

My plan when beginning Wofford was to arrange my family’s business and transfer after a year to a school farther away, like Sarah Laurence in New York. I wanted to be in a center of literary arts.

The long commute gave me hours to study in between classes and I discovered not only a center of literary arts in Wofford’s writing program but its very heart in the office suite of Dr. Benjamin Dunlap and John Lane. They welcomed me as a constant visitor, patiently guiding me, answering my thousand questions and involving me in projects like the fledgling Hub City Writer’s Project. I clung to their wisdom and only now can appreciate how much they looked past my naiveté and allowed me join them as a colleague in the amazing projects they were bringing to the community of Spartanburg.

Dr. Dunlap suggested that undergraduates might be able to write a novel in a semester and suddenly ten of us were trying it, doing it, and the Benjamin Wofford prize was created to congratulate the efforts. Serendipity had brought me to Wofford at a very exciting time of change but the foundation of educational entrepreneurship, which is the meaning of a liberal arts education to me, had always been there.

At that time, I did not intend to make a living with horses but the novel I wrote that semester took place in a riding stable, half biography, half fantasy. The supernatural elements in that quickly written book were entwined with the tough reality of life on a farm: life/death/hope, a cycle that keeps us going even when we long for a five day work week and paid vacations.

After graduating from Wofford, my work with the Bonner Foundation paved the way for a great job at the Greenville Museum of Art. In addition, I managed another gallery in town and amassed an immense amount of freelance writing work. I was doing everything my art history and English degrees told me I should. I, literally, had my dream jobs.

My mind was daily filled to the brim with intellectually engaging material but my body longed for sunlight and calluses. I’d ridden horses here and there while at Wofford, but nothing consistent, just borrowed rides on friend’s horses or a single riding lesson. On quiet afternoons after the stress of an exam I would drive through Tryon’s horse country. Subconsciously I had always sought horses out as a haven from real-world stress, but several years into my adult life my hands ached to feel reins. I missed the deep, earthy smell of a horse.

Recognizing this intuition, I did the silliest thing I could possibly do: I quit my jobs and took a position cleaning stalls.

Then I began to teach people how to ride a horse.

After completing my certification through the American Riding Instructors Association, I began to write for their magazine. Most of the pieces were assigned, but after hearing of the passing of Dr. John Cobb I began to construct an article about teaching, about the process of learning, as I remembered all the hours I spent in Dr. Cobb’s office asking, listening, assimilating. After a few years of working in the agricultural industry, I’d begun to see my life at Wofford as something separate from my career with the horses. That unpublished essay showed me it was still the same work.

With the same enthusiasm gleaned from writing a novel in a semester, I founded my farm on the belief that anything can be attempted even when the odds of success are quite slim. As with editing, my final project is never finished, but the beauty, the structure, comes through revision – tackling each new problem as it comes.

Riders come to me with college entrance essays; they talk to me about books; they ask tough questions. We explore each new topic as it comes, together, in a haven of intellectual, physical and spiritual inquiry. We never stop learning. Science arrives through veterinary medicine, math through accounting, art through expression, English through communication, languages through visitors of every nationality, psychology through the constant truths the horses pull to the surface. I could not have asked for a more ideal environment to continue the work that Wofford gave me.

Bramblewood Stables will be hosting a Wofford Interim project this January brought together by Dr. Kathryn Milne and Catherine England. It will be a homecoming for me and a chance to see my world from a different perspective. I can’t wait to see what I will learn.

One Response to Kim Carter (’96)

  1. […] published on the Wofford College Re: Thinking Education alumni blog, I’m re-posting this here so I can keep track of it.  The Re: Thinking Education initiative […]