GLOUCESTER, Va. — UPDATE 11/17/2021: Austin McGill says expulsion is "off the table" as a punishment for this prank. In a Wednesday meeting, school officials asked him to finish his 10-day suspension, and then he'll be on good-behavior probation.
ORIGINAL STORY: Austin McGill pulled a memorable senior prank when he rode his mom's 27-year-old horse, Sonny, into Gloucester High School on Nov. 5.
"I was talking to my friends and I was like 'you know, I should ride my horse into school' and they were just like ‘that would be hilarious.’"
So, that's exactly what he did.
McGill, 18, said he hatched the idea weeks before he took the reins, but he waited to take the ride into the building until he knew his friends would be there to see him and Sonny.
"Nobody’s ridden a horse into this school. Everybody rides a horse to the school," McGill said.
Gloucester is one of Hampton Roads' more rural communities, with many crop and animal farms.
He saddled up Sonny and rode two miles from his family's farm to the high school. Many of his classmates met McGill and Sonny outside. Then, it was time for class and the prank, but he wasn't sure how far he'd get.
"I was outside for I’d say about a good 20 to 30 minutes and nothing happened, so I was like okay, I’m gonna go inside."
After the crowd went into the school to get settled, McGill and Sonny followed.
"At first, he didn’t want to go in, because down at the bottom, there’s a little metal thing. He had stepped on it and it made a clanking noise," he said.
McGill turned the horse around, soothing him, and tried again. This time, Sonny went right in.
"That’s when everyone just surrounded all of us and so, he was great about it," said McGill. "First everybody started yelling and I was like 'okay, calm down, it’s still a horse, you know. And once everybody quieted down a little bit, then I was trying to explain to them that it still is a horse, you know, they still have a mind of their own and basically just come near if you want to take that risk."
He says they only took a few steps inside because he was worried that the horse could slip on the tile floors. McGill didn't want Sonny or anyone else to get hurt.
He says students and teachers were excited and taking videos and selfies.
Especially after the last year and a half of virtual learning and the uncertainty throughout the pandemic, he says he just wanted to put a smile on people's faces.
"That was my main point to spread the joy because we've been cooped up," he said.
He says he saw one teacher who looked upset and that's when he turned Sonny around.
"Nobody told me to go," he said. "I was like I don’t want to offend anybody, so I walked him out. I got off of him and walked him out and that’s when I just rode right back to the farm."
McGill said he was suspended for 10 days for "causing a demonstration or disruption," but said his slip recommended a punishment of long-term suspension up to expulsion. He's set to have a meeting with school leaders about it in a few days.
"I wasn’t technically suspended for riding my horse into the building," he said. "In the rule book, there’s nothing that doesn’t allow you to ride a horse into the building."
For now, McGill says he wants school leaders to know he would not have brought Sonny inside if he didn’t think he would behave.
"I’ve thought about it and really the only thing that they can say is ‘what ifs’ and I mean there’s a lot of things that could happen if you’re gonna say ‘what if’ and nothing happened. He was great. He did exactly what I wanted him to do," he said.
He says with Sonny's age and long history of training, no one was in any danger.
"Like I said, 25 years of training. It’s almost like... I wouldn’t say he’s perfect but it’s 99.9%. I’ve been working with this horse since I wasn’t even a thing. So, I grew up with this horse and we’ve done everything together. He’s my best friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse to do it with so, those 'what ifs,' it wouldn’t have happened especially with him."
He says at the end of the day, he doesn’t think he did anything wrong and he’s hopeful others will be on his side.
13News Now reached out to Gloucester High School twice for comment on the suspension. We have not yet received a response, but we'll update this story when we get a response.