- My Story: How I Came To Teach Riding Lessons -

By: Sally Cochran (formerly Blattenberger) June 2007> Have you ever wondered what makes a little girl fall in love with horses? After all, what is it that could possibly entice someone to fashion their entire life around these huge animals, these smelly, stubborn animals that thrive on human intervention? Maybe it's the excitement, the danger, the passion that fills your senses as you even merely enter the presence of these magnificent, amazing, beautiful creatures God created. Maybe it's the thrill of flying through pasture land, finally feeling free of the pressing issues of the world. Maybe it's the joy of watching a small child learn to balance, steer, and stop a horse, the incredible fascination on their faces. > Or, who knows, maybe we're just out of our minds! This article is written by one of those little girls that has grown up now, her entire life revolving around horses. Going into it, I'm sure my parents didn't know that I'd one day end up with a career involving horses. Most parents assume that it's just a stage that every little girl goes through'one in which ribbons fill the walls and dirty boots sit next to the bed, covered with manure. For some of us, though, the dream becomes reality as we finally earn enough money to buy our own first horse or pony, start showing, and maybe, as I did, start teaching lessons. >My story is one of a little bit different, perhaps, than many others. It had a relatively rocky start, but then everyone has to start somewhere, right? Many riding instructors have to start at the very bottom and work their way up from there- and I was certainly no exception to that rule.

>I didn't always want to teach. I started out like any other little girl, loving horses and wanting to be around them all the time. I began taking riding lessons when I was 10, on an old Appaloosa mare named Beebee. I got my first horse when I was 16, paid for with my own money that I had been saving since I was born. Thankfully, with the help of my parents paying half her purchase price, I was able to buy a Quarter Horse mare with relatively good blood lines - a show horse. I rode her all the time, and taught her all kinds of things (and the other way around, too!)

>My parents had told me that if I got a horse, they would pay for the boarding until I graduated college, then I'd have to support her myself. Well, about a year after I bought Prissy, the boarding and lesson expense just got to be too much'.so my dad told me that I would either have to find a way to help make money to keep her, or sell her. I tried for about 5 months to sell her, to no avail. Evidently no one wanted her. I couldn't imagine why, but looking back now I'm glad no one did! They helped me pay board for her until the end of the next year, then because I was making enough money to support her myself, I was on my own.

>The only logical thing to do was to start teaching riding lessons'that way, Prissy would pay for her own way in life. Problem was, the stable I was riding at wouldn't let me teach, for liability issues. They already had an instructor, and didn't want anyone else infringing on that business. So, I set out to find another stable. I found one close to where I worked (actually about a quarter mile away!), moved Prissy a couple of months later, and started advertising. I started off small, 4 lessons for eighty dollars. I got my first call, a mother wanting her two daughters to take lessons.

> Annica and Maggie started lessons with me and took one a week each. After another month or so I started getting more calls'a student from my martial arts class started taking lessons, so did a classmate from college, and a few more. The more students I got, though, the more the owners of this private stable took a look at my business and decided that they wanted a cut of what I was making, so they demanded payment'.in addition to boarding, they wanted half of everything I was making off lessons. I quickly quit teaching and started looking for another place. The next place I found was Magnolia Farm Riding Academy, a busy hunter-jumper farm about 10 miles from my apartment. By this time Prissy was a proven lesson horse'.she usually did what she was asked to, anyway, and she took care of her riders.

>Magnolia Farm didn't charge me to teach unless I used the school horses, and in that case it was only $5 a lesson. So I made sure I taught as many lessons on Prissy as I could. I was still working a full-time job of over 50 hours a week, so I only taught about 10 or 15 hours a week' I didn't have time to do much more!

>Then around January came what seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. One of my students' mothers told me about a place she knew about that was seeking a full-time riding instructor. I jumped on it and went out to the stable, a beautiful farm about 12 miles from my apartment. I was hired on the spot, told I could bring my horse out, and teach all the lessons I wanted. I moved out there, bought another lesson horse, and now had about 5 lesson horses to teach on, since I had bought another horse at the beginning of April, a little sorrel Quarter Horse mare named Roxy. I taught about 25 lessons a week now and have almost 35 students.

>Things went wrong with that whole deal, though, and unfortunately I had to leave - by my own choice. There was a lot going on at that farm that wasn't very fair to me as either a boarder or riding instructor - in fact, some of it was pretty rotten on the part of the barn owners! But I won't go into that in this article, because this is about me and how I got started - not how I got gypped out of certain deals. After I realized that things at the farm weren't going to work out, I started looking for somewhere else to move Prissy. I put Roxy up for sale, because everything was going down the drain financially. She soon went to another home in a town about an hour away from Greensboro, so that issue was out of my hair - but I still didn't have anywhere to escape this mess I was in! I called a lot of different places and finally received a call back from one that turned out to be half the distance from my home as the other farm was. I went over to check it out the very same day, and fell in love with the place.

>Equine Kingdom Riding Academy was a 15 acre farm, a backyard facility - certainly not the Hilton Hotel as far as farms go, but functional in and of itself. The horses looked well cared for, the grounds well-maintained, and the grass was very short - in the middle of summer, the horses had eaten all the grass, but it wasn't down to dirt yet (thankfully since then the grass has grown - a LOT). The horses were pasture boarded, only brought in for feeding and in very bad weather. Mares and geldings, all ten of them, were kept in the same field together. And did I mention that there was no riding arena, a very small tack room, and no way to safely crosstie the horses without the others coming into the barn? However, boarding was only $126.75/month - less than half of what I was paying at one of the other farms- $300/month for pasture board, AND I had to pay to teach there!

> I learned my lesson the first two times - I finally got everything in a contract this time - a legally binding, fairly equitable contract that spelled out the terms very clearly for both parties ( I HIGHLY suggest this, no matter where you go! Written words stand up much better than 'he said, she said' situations). Pal and I sat down and discussed everything over the next few days - what our expectations of each other were, what would and would not go on, and how neither would take advantage of the other. I agreed to build an arena for her, as long as it was removable and the horses could still get in and out of it (this was easily solved with PVC piping for the fence), and she agreed to let me teach at my leisure - any time I wanted, as long as I wanted, at no charge! She didn't want anything in return. It was enough, she said, to see activity on the farm, which had lain dormant for so long. I even got the use of two of the boarders' horses for my lessons, Dandy and Rocky! Dandy turned out to be a great lesson horse - Rocky, not so much because he had been abused and hadn't been ridden in a very long time. But I had convinced one of my students, Fran, to move her horse Dublin over with me to the new place.

>The horses were settled in, and on the very first day I started teaching over there. I haven't had a bit of regret moving there since, and it's been two months now. Nothing has changed since that very first day, and things have only gotten better. My clientele is growing by leaps and bounds; at least once a week I get a call or email from someone looking for riding lessons or trail rides. I help Pal feed the horses when she's out of town, and she's kind enough to leave the horses I need for morning lessons up after feeding for me if I ask her to.

>Because of the roundabout, part-time manner I've entered the riding instruction world, I've had to learn mostly on my own. I haven't yet got my American Riding Instruction Association certification for teaching recreational riding, but I plan to sometime in the near future, just so I'll be qualified. But I've taught a lot of people how to ride, and how to win at shows, and helped a lot of people pursue their dreams. I hope you've enjoyed this story, at least in part, of how Equine Kingdom as a riding instruction facility came to be known. Someday, God willing, there will be a riding academy called Equine Kingdom. I'm not sure if it'll be in North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, or some other far away place, but that has always been my dream and goal, and God is steadily answering my prayers concerning such a venture. God bless you all, and thanks for listening!

>February 27, 2008 Update
So far I have no complaints, only high praise, for everything at Equine Kingdom Riding Academy! It would seem that I've found my resting place, so to speak, for the time being. I still have Dandy and Rocky to teach on, although for the most part I just use Prissy and Dandy in my lessons. Dublin is no longer being used in lessons, but Fran is still taking lessons on her, and Lauren, one of my 9 year old students, is half-leasing her and taking lessons. Show season is about to start up again, I've got about 30 students coming every week, and now that occasionally there's warm weather, things are starting to pick back again, thankfully. The remainder of 2007 was spent learning new ways to teach, teaching a lot of people how to ride, and learning the ins and outs of the different horses I use, so that I can know their personalities better for my teaching. This year, 2008, there are a lot of summer camps, activities, seminars, and horse shows to attend!

>Pal is still as great as ever - I help her with feeding, watering, and caring for the horses when she needs me, she still lets me teach and never complains, regardless of how early or how late I'm out at the farm, as long as I make sure everything is left the way it was when I came. I've got a brand new tack shed out behind the barn all to myself for all my numerous pieces of equipment, and doors that lead into the stalls directly from it, to make it easier for tacking/untacking the horses. I still have yet to have the chance and or the time and financial investment to go test for my riding instruction certification, but after my husband finishes his certification/training for Animal Behavioral Training, I plan to go get mine in horseback riding instruction. Chances are I'll go for level 2 instructor (that's the maximum my age will allow me to get), with specialties in Recreational Riding and either Hunt Seat on the Flat or Western Pleasure & Equitation. I haven't decided on the last one yet - I can only get two specializations with my first testing.

>More to come later, as the days/weeks/months roll by!

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