A Virginia student rode a horse into his high school as a senior prank — and his attempt at humor has caused a ruckus in the town of Gloucester.
Video shared on Facebook shows Austin McGill, 18, successfully coaxing the 27-year-old Arabian gelding through a school doorway of Gloucester High School on Nov. 5. The two stayed inside about 10 minutes, as students and staff poured out of classrooms to take a look.
School officials were not amused.
“They have given him 10 days suspension and recommended long-term suspension,” his mom, Melissa Warden McGill, told McClatchy News.
“It was just a harmless senior prank to bring smiles and laughter. I don’t think he needed to be suspended for 10 days — or more — over something that hurt no one,” she said. “Three days max, if a punishment was really necessary. In my opinion, it was not. Nothing in code or laws prohibits riding a horse to school.”
McClatchy News reached out to Gloucester Public Schools officials and did not immediately receive a response.
Melissa Warden McGill said she now fears her son won’t graduate as expected in January, keeping him from attending U.S. Navy boot camp.
A meeting is set next week with school officials to “finalize punishment,” she said.
The Gloucester County Public Schools is a small district west of the Chesapeake Bay, with 5,408 students in nine schools, according to Greatschools.org.
Austin McGill said his suspension is for “causing a demonstration or disruption,” WVEC reported.
“I wasn’t technically suspended for riding my horse into the building,” he told the TV station.
A community movement is now growing on his behalf, using the social media hashtag #freeharmlessaustin on Facebook. Backers want the district to let him graduate on time. Many note senior pranks are a decades-old tradition in the nation’s high schools.
“The horse didn’t even poop on the floor!” Brenda Hughes pointed out on Facebook.
“Let them be kids … I have seen far worse,” Elaine Campbell Middleton wrote.
“Your kid (is) a legend!” Heather Muddiman posted on Facebook. “Our rural school would have laughed this off and patted him on the back!! He did not deserve to be suspended!”
“Nothing vandalized, nobody hurt. Going for suspension is too harsh,” Sharon Westerhof said.
Melissa Warden McGill said the community support has been encouraging and has grown far beyond expectations.
As for any harm her son may have caused, she notes the prank was staged at around 11:15 a.m. “when all students were scheduled to be in class.”
Austin and the horse (named Sonny) “parked just inside the doors” and didn’t venture down the halls, in part “because the floors were slippery,” she says.
“So much bad happens in the world, we just wanted to do something lighthearted and fun!”