Riding Lessons and More in Central Virginia

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Shortest Day

The lesson children this week are just crazy excited looking forward to Christmas morning. But their instructor, while also anticipating family and food on Sunday, is psyched for tomorrow. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. For those of us without lighted or indoor rings, and anyone who works outside, it's definitely time to celebrate when we know the days are getting longer again! Even though it will take four weeks to get back to the hours of daylight we had at Thanksgiving, and even longer to really make a noticeable difference, it's a huge psychological boost. I should mention that the Speckled Sussex ladies have been laying their delicious fresh eggs quite reliably, even during these shortest days. My neighbors stopped by with a gift of delicious, aromatic FFA fruit and I was able to reciprocate with some beautiful brown eggs.

Barn business continues through the winter. Lesson sessions with Louisa County Parks and Recreation begin in January, and their latest "Leisure Times" catalog includes EKF's first-ever Spring Break Horse Camp. I've already posted the Summer Camp schedule on the Details, Please page of the website. June seems far off, but with the days getting longer it's not too soon to plan ahead.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good Times with Old Friends

The week after Thanksgiving is always fun because my friends from the Norfolk Hunt Club in Massachusetts bring horses and hounds down for several days of foxhunting and visiting. Owen, the MFH and my former farrier, John the huntsman (who honored Pungo by naming a Norfolk puppy after her last spring) and a great new member named Kevin enjoyed riding with Farmington, Rappahannock, and Keswick. On Thursday, the Norfolk hounds followed a dragline through the beautiful open fields near the Farmington kennels. Then Friday, the guys all trekked out to Louisa to get the grand tour of my farm, which Owen and John had last seen in the dark, and before the barns were built. The bridle cleaning rack in my tackroom -- made from two of Pungo's shoes -- was a gift from Owen when I moved to Virginia, so I wanted to be sure he saw it hanging above the sink.

Here's a link to a wonderful article written by the young woman who, as a child, owned our little bay pony, Rascal. Everyone knows that Rascal is a fuzzy bay rocket under saddle, but this story about his early life shows how many naughty behaviors his former owner corrected before he came to be a lesson pony (thank goodness). And a few of his charming habits that we all love still (like singing his aria at feeding time). Click here!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm Thankful For . . .

. . . being so busy with visiting family that I haven't had time to update the blog! We all wrote down something we're thankful for and shared around the - overflowing - dining room table. Among the familiar, and important, entries were "grandchildren," "good health," and "good jobs;" somebody snuck in a special nod for "Rascal" (check out his story on the Creature Feature page of the website), and I added "Fresh eggs!" The Speckled Sussex ladies are coming through with delicious, perfect brown eggs and they are frying up nice and tasty. Beautiful dark orange yolks that don't look like rubbery plastic.

And the dining room table was literally overflowing. My mother turned her back for thirty seconds, and an entire plateful of turkey and ham, placed near the edge, disappeared as a yellow blur named Nilla snuck away with a guilty conscience and a full stomach. So we're also thankful for a such a youthful, playful spirit around the house . . . and next time, the plate's going on the center of the table.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Pace

Last weekend, Team EKF veterinarian Dr. Martha and her cousin (visiting from Canada) traded their dressage saddles and Dutch warmbloods for Shadow, Henry, and a little hunter pace fun near Earlysville. With our matching hunt bridles, breastplates, and purple fleece tops, we were quite a stunning trio. Belle and I set a forward speed, alas, about fifteen minutes too fast for the optimum time in our division. But since our plan was just to enjoy jumping logs, galloping across fields, and munching on the adorable horse-shaped, hand-decorated cookies at the lunch tent -- our day was a success.

The large photo at the top of the blog page features Buck Mountain in the background. Just a little beyond this point, we rode past Harry de Leyer's farm. His name might be familiar as the man who purchased an old gray gelding off of a trailer bound for the slaughterhouse. De Leyer said he bought the horse because its kind eyes suggested it would make a good lesson horse. The gelding, who still had rubs in his coat from working in harness, was trained and sold to a doctor down the road. But no matter how high the doctor built his pasture fences, the horse kept jumping them and trotting home to de Leyer's farm. Finally the doctor sold him back, Mr. de Leyer began to compete him, and "Snowman" went on to become one of the most famous grand prix showjumpers of the 1950's-60's. There's a new book out (and probably many old ones) about this amazing true story.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween

Another autumn, another day of pony rides at the Fall Festival in Mineral! 104 kids' names on the release forms - whew, quite a busy afternoon. This time we took Wizard and Misty, and three high school students and a couple of extra helpers made sure everything went smoothly. Well, there was one moment when both ponies had teeny tinies screeching at full volume on their backs - but once they walked forward, the crying stopped and the smiles started. Many, many thanks to all my assistants!!! And I hope everyone saw the photo of Wizard and friends in the paper last Thursday.

Due to popular demand, I added another session of Parks & Rec lessons for kids in November, so call the office if you're interested in signing up. Regular lessons continue straight through winter, so get your long underwear and fleece ready (did we really see some snow out there last night? Ick!). I'm looking forward to taking Dr. Martha the veterinarian and her cousin on a hunter pace next Sunday -- doing a sundance for better weather then.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Keeping Busy



It's been a couple of weeks since my last post and many activities are underway. As a little treat, I went to visit Field Day of the Past near Richmond, which was a huge event spread over 50 acres! I checked out the tractor pulls, antique engines and milling machines, but I was most interested in the animals (of course). The 4Hers were showing some handsome chickens, though none as good looking as our ladies, and also some stately geese and ducks. The Virginia High School Rodeo barrel racing competition was lots of fun to watch. I took a picture of a special event where ribbons were tied to the tails of little calves, and each ribbon was worth a prize. They lined up all the tiny tykes in attendance, released the calves out of the chute, and let the kids run after the ribbons! It was pretty funny.

Back at the farm we have some returning riders and some new faces, including a couple of grownups. The more delicate riders will be glad to hear that I finally picked up a neoprene "Tush Cushion," so if you think you'd like to use it for your lesson, speak up! Zender and Chubbs got out to a very muddy, and seemingly mostly uphill, hunter pace north of Orange on Sunday. Between the mugginess, the jumps and the hilly terrain, I think Chubbs might have worked off half a pound. This weekend, I'm planning to bring Misty and Wizard to the Fall Festival at Walton Park in Mineral for pony rides. Then Sunday they'll be back at work on the farm for another birthday party!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Girl Power!


I couldn't let summer end without reporting on the excellent group of scouts from Spotsylvania who took over EKF for a whole week to get their Riding and Horsemanship badges! These girls worked extremely hard to digest and master a HUGE amount of information in just a few days. Equine behavior, safe horse handling, grooming, tacking up -- there was a lot to get through before we even mounted up. There was a little apprehension about riding independently, but by Day Four they were all off the leadline and steering like pros (see below). Kudos to the mom who put together the supercute collage in the top picture, showing each girl's first experience at the trot -- a classic moment we all can remember: "What is happening? This is soooo bumpy! Am I going to fall off? That was FUN!"
Even better, these young women are returning to continue lessons, so they will make some amazing progress this fall.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shaken, Not Stirred

Quite a few of my friends in Massachusetts have asked, "Do you live near where the earthquake happened?" and the answer is, "Oh, yes!" The dogs and I were sitting on the front porch when the house began shaking and rattling, which I thought meant an imminent gas explosion, so we ran across the yard. Once I realized the trembling wasn't just my house (and I have a heat pump anyway), I checked all the animals, who were fine, and fortunately the only effects were a few items that fell off shelves and pictures off walls. Unfortunately, the aftershock at 8:00 pm that night struck just as the dogs and I were heading up the porch steps into the house - so now Nilla the puppy is extremely suspicious of the front porch!

The neighbor children had given me little bottles of colored sand as a birthday present, and here's how one looked after the quake:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Changing of the Guard


We had more terrific all-day activities at the farm last week, including Mr. Wizard winning over a new fan! In addition to working Chubbs and Wiz in the ring, the riders carried helmets and halters out to the far back field and enjoyed riding Pungo, Misty, and Clio bareback around (but not over) the cross-country jumps, which also made handy mounting blocks. It's not easy to get on Pungo without a stirrup or a stepstool. One of the afternoon projects was creating these excellent posters, which are on display in the upper barn. Peppermint the bunny was happy to get a little extra attention too.
The big picture at the top of the blog is special to me, because it shows our young horse, Clio, "joining the payroll" at the farm. After spending extra time this spring getting her ready to help with lessons, I am proud to see her so calmly carrying these beginners around the pasture. At the same time, Clio's entry into the workforce is bittersweet, as also this week, I officially retired the one and only Ginger Snap. Ginger, age 28, is still the first mare whinnying for a treat at the gate every morning. But she had slowed down and I promised her that she could hang up her bridle when the camp sessions ended. She definitely deserves to enjoy a little retirement out on the Virginia grass. So it has been a wistful changing of the guard -- sort of a "Sunrise, Sunset" transition at the farm this week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

At the Fair

Easy Keeper Farm enjoyed another terrific weekend at the Louisa County Agricultural Fair. If you came by our booth and we weren't there -- hope you took a brochure and enjoyed the updated slideshow running photographs of our excellent students, friendly horses, and all the improvements around the farm. We had too much to see at the Fair to sit at the booth all day! My favorite part is the 4H Livestock Show, and the kids presenting their hogs, sheep, goats and cattle to the judges do such a great job. It is not easy to win a Showmanship class based on how you handle a free-ranging hog, I am sure! A couple of steers were quite spunky, and one gave his small handler a swing into the metal panels. The youngster bravely continued and answered the judge's questions while rubbing the bump on his head. He got a big round of applause and his mom reported the next day that he had been checked out fine. The sheepdog demonstration, the quilted projects and the vegetables in the judged exhibits rounded out the highlights. As always, the FFA Alumni Dinner Under the Stars on Friday night was a delicious treat.

Looking ahead, if you're interested in riding but haven't quite convinced Mom and Dad yet, be sure to come to the Betty Queen Center on Saturday, August 20, from 10-12 noon. It's the 30th Anniversary Party for the Louisa County Parks & Recreation Department, and Team EKF will be there giving free pony rides!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Patsy, Loretta, Dolly, Tammy and Emmylou

On June 7, the post office called to let me know that a cardboard box full of these little ladies was waiting for pickup!
We carefully prepared a safe area for them in the tackroom, with a heatlamp to keep them at 95 degrees for the first couple of weeks . . . then down to 85 for the next couple . . .
These girls are Speckled Sussex pullets, and they will provide tasty eggs and keep the insect population around the house and barns under control. They were chasing and catching flies by about two weeks of age.
More recently, at about six weeks, they enjoyed dining on a nice juicy tomato. They'll be getting most of the table scraps from now on (at least, the scraps that make it past Nilla, Gretchen, and Peanut Butter).
When people ask whether I have children, I reply, "All my kids have four legs and and a tail." Now I suppose I'll have to add that a few have "two legs and wings!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Best. Week. Ever!

The July session of Louisa County Parks & Recreation Down on the Farm Fun Camp was an absolute BLAST! Nine campers arrived with energy, enthusiasm, and excellent attitudes which created an awesome week. A highlight was exploring the sandy banks of Duckinghole Creek to find beetles, tadpoles, freshwater shellfish, evidence of beavers, and deer tracks.
Each day began with riding lessons in the ring. We rode Wizard, Henry, Ginger, Chubbs, and Misty. All the riders were trotting by Friday's lesson! Thanks to those patient school horses!
After a particularly warm hike to the back field, we rested in the shade before discovering some tasty wild blackberries growing out of the coops, which made a refreshing snack.
In the afternoons, we brought back Chubbs and Wizard, along with Rascal, for bareback rides. On Thursday, Pungo, Webster, and Belle gently carried all the campers around for Big Horse Day.
Additional activities included pressing objects, such as a horseshoe, pinecones, and acorns, into clay and then printing our names to create a keepsake; making designs on photosensitive paper from flowers, sticks, and other materials; and uncovering nearly an entire skeleton of a long-deceased horse or cow in the woods.
These campers were terrific at weed-whacking (I mean literally, whacking weeds with long sticks) and no whacks were directed at other campers, or me! We also fed the sheep and met the month-old Speckled Sussex chicks. More on those little guys next time!

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Course

We had enough rain last week to soften up the hard ground. That meant perfect conditions to go out and school over the cross-country jumps, including Rock and a Hard Place:
. . . and Jeff's Jump:
Unfortunately, it is difficult to coach the rider and photograph a jumping horse with a Blackberry simultaneously! I'll keep practicing and try to get some different obstacles in the pictures next time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Horsin' Around in the Old Dominion

Now just to be clear, technically, the photo above is not Easy Keeper Farm! It's Montpelier, the home of James Madison, author of our Constitution and fourth president. The equestrian community also knows the estate as the home of Mrs. Marion duPont Scott, an avid breeder and owner, who established the steeplechase races that still run at Montpelier every November. Not only did the late Mrs. Scott and her family leave Montpelier to be restored and open to the public, they also established the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. This charity, headquartered on the 2600-acre property, provides a safe, beautiful home for ex-racehorses when their days at the track are over.

David Bourke, the farrier, invited us to trailer over to his home, and we rode out for a guided three-hour trail ride. David knows everything about the horsey history of the farm, and even led us around the shedrows of the training barns -- where slender young Thoroughbreds took a second look at my pinto draft cross and Chubbs the cobby pony! The highlight was cantering up and down the dirt training track, though these guys look a little out of place:
A week before, we also enjoyed a fantastic hunter pace through the foothills of the Blue Ridge near Free Union, Virginia . . .
. . . as well as a stroll along Lake Anna State Park. Virginia is a terrific place for riding out with friends!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reunion

Early summer is time for many family and college class reunions. In this photo, two friends reunite after several years and an entire ocean apart! One of my former lesson students, who now lives in Germany, graduated this spring and came over to visit for a couple of weeks. In addition to reconnecting with her old buddy Henry, she's enjoyed a little local history and hospitality with me - music at Walton Park, lunch at Earlyhouse, the house and garden tour at Monticello - so we've been busy with fun excursions from the farm. She's also been a BIG help with new beginner riders through the Parks & Rec program, and she'll be jumping in to work with a group of Girl Scouts arriving next week. We're hoping for an opportunity to ride at Montpelier this weekend . . . I'll be sure to post photos next time if we do.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Boys Ride Too


Some people think of horsebackriding, especially hunt seat, as a girls-only activity -- but they couldn't be more wrong. I always enjoy a number of gentleman students, of all ages. Last week a new little fellow joined us, and at just THREE years old, he was able to steer Misty in and out of the buckets all by himself without me even holding a leadrope! A couple of husbands, from forty to sixtysomething, have tagged along with their wives' lessons and quickly picked up trotting over poles (not to mention the benefits for me: one came back later with his wife to chainsaw a fallen tree into a beautiful cross-country jump, and the other couple offered to take me out on their boat on Lake Anna). Yes! Plus our regular riders, such as the future foxhunter pictured at left and above, gamely tackling Pungo's hooves and keeping her out on the rail, heels down.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Summertime

The schedule for EKF summer camps is posted on the Details, Please page of the website -- and registrations have already started coming in, so don't delay! There is an absolute maximum of eight children per week, so there's plenty of riding instruction and attention for all. Plus fun time learning about horse breeds and colors, skills like lunging and riding bareback, helping out around the farm, creative activities, "Big Horse Day," cross-country practice, and more. Recruit a couple of pals or team up with other EKF riders to plan a week with all your friends, two- and four-legged.

What's with the snapping turtle? And what is a "Code Toad?" Check out the nature blog!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the Homestretch


My New England followers will be surprised to learn that our local children have only three more weeks of school until summer vacation! They finish before Memorial Day, and then it's straight into several weeks of fun programs here at the farm. I am busy setting up the schedule, from the first week of June with Parks & Rec campers, through celebrating my birthday at the county fair at the end of July. In between we'll be starting new riders, getting the hunt horses out trail riding to maintain fitness (hopefully including my young horse, Clio, who's been hacking quietly through the fields at home), attending a horse show or two, and participating in the fundraising ride at the Trevilian Station Civil War battlefield site here in Louisa. So the schoolkids are in the homestretch, but the horses and I are taking a deep breath before we leap out of the starting gate into summer!

Yes, I had to slip in a racetrack reference there - it is Kentucky Derby week, after all. If you enjoy watching and learning about Thoroughbreds, check out PBS this Thursday night. They're showing a documentary called "Thoroughbred" about the entire industry, from breeding to the backstretch to the sales to the races. I attended a recent screening in Charlottesville, and there are some great interviews with celebrities and characters from all corners of the horseracing world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Things

Spring means warmer weather, and that brings lots and lots of people out to the farm! By Saturday evening, between regular lessons, Parks & Rec kids and adults, grandchild pony riders, special visitors, little siblings jumping in, and my fantastic birthday party helpers taking their "Thank You" trail ride (pictured above), around thirty folks will have enjoyed our excellent horses and ponies this week - a record! And about a half-dozen new enrollees are ready to get started after the school vacation, so the schedule is filling up, which is great. The students who have worked hard all winter are really improving too, with a couple of girls jumping through their first lines this week, one rider taking Henry around a nice flowing course, Shadow doing some superb work over the cross-country jumps in the big field (where was my camera? Doh!), and quite a few tiny riders trotting independently down the long sides.

Speaking of the big field, you may have noticed a huge puddle there from the recent rains. It's actually a vernal pool, which forms every spring and provides a place for amphibians to lay their eggs. Because the pool dries up before summer, no fish can live in it, and that's a safe spot for the eggs to hatch into tadpoles (and whatever hatchling salamanders are called), which develop in the water, grow their legs, and are ready to hop off into the woods when it dries out. I've taken some neat photos of these developments, so check them out at the nature blog.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Head, Heart, Hands, Health

Recently I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for the Louisa County Young Riders 4-H Club. Along with a couple of other (crusty old? No no no) horsewomen, I met the group down at the Extension Office in the county government building to evaluate Oral Presentations. The speakers were judged on twenty different points, from their appearance and poise, to the thoroughness and accuracy of their information. I believe the 4-Hers ranged from age 11 to 17, and their topics included breeds such as Friesians and Tennessee Walking Horses, training issues such as preparing for the State 4-H show or competing in Western Pleasure, and other areas like specific health problems and identifying poisonous plants. They did a great job - as we all know, public speaking can be very daunting, easier for some than for others - and obviously they had practiced and worked hard on their preparation.

I happily observed that the meeting began with their President leading the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the 4-H Pledge: "I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club."

Monday, March 28, 2011

"To Horse and Hound"


Pictured in Nelson County, Chubbs and Belle provided a wonderful day's sport, with about a hundred other riders, as the foxhunting season drew to a close. I think Mr. Reynard could hear all those hooves coming and chose to hide in his den, but we had a great time galloping across fields, sliding down trails, and hopping across winding streams. Every pause gave us a chance to admire the 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains! Providing comic relief was a pair of house dogs, one a Dalmation, who cheerfully loped along behind the foxhounds. And the abundant breakfast following the meet was a special treat - I snuck a few items into my pockets for sustenance on the drive home.

"But I freely admit that the best of my fun I owe it to horse and hound." -- George John Whyte-Melville

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Set a Goal


I've enjoyed handing out a number of ribbons to students beginning the Horsemanship Program! The first level, Super Starter, covers the most important things we learn around horses. This includes how to safely approach, handle and groom a horse. These riders must also be able to tack up on their own (with possibly a little help with the bit), and demonstrate mounting/dismounting, correct position, and control of the horse through a series of exercises at the walk. The next level, Terrific Trotter, requires more equine knowledge and performance of maneuvers at the trot. Moving up, students must complete the skills on different schoolhorses, which will be quite a challenge for those especially fond of Misty and Ginger! But true horsemanship means being able to ride all types of horses, and it's an excellent goal to pursue.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

February's birthday girl provided a wonderful portrait of her mount.

The washrack became a sidewalk chalk exhibit yesterday.

In the span of three Saturdays, EKF hosted more than thirty pony partiers to celebrate birthdays! The entire team, two- and four-legged, jumps into action for these busy events. The sheep are corralled so they can be seen, touched, fed, scratched, and heard; the bunnies allow themselves to be brought out and patted by many small hands; Ginger, Krispy Kreme, and Misty patiently stand to be brushed by little party guests, then amble gently under saddle; and the greatly-appreciated human helpers do their best to distribute oat bar treats, guard against tiny toes slipping under hooves, and guide the new riders' trips around and around the ring.

Pony parties require quite a bit of planning beforehand, and the ability to remain calm and cheerful amidst the fast-moving swirl of excited elementary school kids (and their sometimes slightly-anxious parents and grandparents)! They might represent, though, the purest form of what I do: helping people connect with and enjoy horses, other animals, and the outdoors. The birthday child is confident and knows the spotlight is on; he or she high-fives lowly pedestrian friends waiting their turn at the gate. The pony's initial steps provoke a clutch at the saddle from most guests, but then a giggle. One shy child is reluctant to come forward, but quietly agrees to swing on; with a few prompts from the helper walking alongside, he or she tentatively pats the pony's neck, then buries nervous fingers in the warm, shaggy fur, and - looking up - smiles!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Think Outside the Ring

When the temperature hits seventy-five degrees in February,
Team EKF heads out to enjoy the sunshine and mud-free trails!
At nearby Lake Anna State Park . . .
Down by Duckinghole Creek . . .
Out by the huge rocks in the back field . . .
Tee shirts and smiles for visitors from the frozen north . . .
And with my awesome adult ladies, one of whom
almost cantered all the way up the hill to the house!
Horses (top to bottom and left to right):
Chubbs, Zender, Henry,
Misty, Krispy Kreme, Wizard,
Shadow, Chubbs, Belle, Henry, Ginger, and Pungo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Go, Groundhog, Go!

. . . as in, I'm hoping Mr. Groundhog sees a nice sunny spring hurrying its way to Louisa County! In the meantime, Misty and Krispy happily help make the best of a slushy lesson with my Saturday Louisa County Parks and Recreation kids. After riding through a chilly morning, what better way to warm up than with a little bareback time? These girls then hiked down to Duckinghole Creek to check out the beaver activity. To hear all about that, visit my nature blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Grown-Up) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

I had the best time with my new students from the Louisa County Parks and Recreation Department programs!!! Pictured above are the four fearless ladies who came out, enthusiastic and brave, in the chilly temperatures yesterday to take their first lesson. Many had never sat on a horse, others had not ridden in decades, and all of them had such affection for their four-legged partners. It was awesome to see! They started with a general introduction to horse behavior and handling on the ground, learned some grooming techniques (alas, I hope they didn't wear their fanciest winter jackets), and spent a few minutes brushing and bonding with their selected mounts. During this time, one rider sang quietly to her horse, and another gave praise and compliments in her native language - not English, but in a tone of voice that universally conveyed kindness and trust.

After sorting out which helmet fit which head (an excuse to spend five minutes in the heated tackroom), it was time to climb aboard. In this initial session, they began to learn correct position, halt, walk, and steering, and each rider individually navigated a simple obstacle course including poles, a maze, steering through a zigzag, and halting in a specific spot. All of this was pretty easy compared to dismounting, which I think presented the biggest challenge! Finally the horses (from left to right, Henry, Belle, Ginger and Pungo) each received an apply treat and the ladies - having pushed their comfort zones, successfully - seemed as excited as a gaggle of eight-year-olds after a pony ride. I can't wait to host this group again.

Horse of the Year

Zenyatta received her well-earned Horse of the Year honors last week, and also received a special award from Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, for capturing the hearts of the public. Here's a link to a terrific report about the Queen's new life at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky: Visiting Zenyatta

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year, New Ideas

Heading into what will become EKF's first full calendar year of operation, it's exciting to see the progress our students have made in just a few months. Last week, I started setting up tiny crossrails for a couple of riders who are prepared to begin moving from trotting over poles to working over actual jumps. Others have cantered for the first time, and still more are getting very, very close! Plus, brand new little folks have joined us, and they're just looking forward to riding without me holding onto that pesky leadline.

To encourage more progress, I'm beginning a Horsemanship Program that will recognize both unmounted and mounted skills. From the basic Super Starters through the Excellent Experts, kids who would like to test themselves can demonstrate their knowledge and abilities on and off the horse. When you can show all the requirements for one level, you'll get a nice blue ribbon and continue working toward the next. This program is completely optional, of course, and there is no time pressure to finish any level. In fact, most riders probably have strengths in certain areas, like posting on the correct diagonal, but might be behind in others - like adjusting their own stirrups while mounted, or naming all the parts of the horse.

Setting out the requirements for each level was a fun challenge for me. I prioritized all the information and techniques that I teach, decided which must come first, then second and so on, and figured out which unmounted skills and knowledge should be mastered as one's riding ability improves. This program will give me, our riders, and (whether they know it or not) our horses some terrific motivation and goals for the new year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A half-dozen hardy riders turned out for Winter Wonderland Camp the week after Christmas. While there was still plenty of snow on the ground, the temperatures were warm enough to enjoy lessons, bareback rides, trail riding, helping hay the horses and sheep, tending to the bunnies, and reorganizing and labeling all the school horse brushes. It was lots of fun and I'm already working on more projects and new activities for the Spring Vacation Camp in March! In the meantime, if you've been thinking about lessons, there's a great opportunity to jump in at a terrific price through Louisa County Parks and Recreation. For the details, click here and continue to "Horseback Riding Lessons" in the Kidz Zone and Adult Sports and Fitness.