Several years ago, I worked at a local college. One of my co-workers was a psychology professor and our favorite subject to chat about was horses. She boarded a horse for her two young girls to show. I remember her telling me though horses weren't her thing, her girls loved every second of it. She told me that little girls need something tangible to love, and it's a parent's job to help guide them to find the right object of their affection.

At the time, I didn't have a daughter (yet) but I grew up with my own horse. Stormy was my (no pun intended) ride or die. He actually saved my life on one trail ride, outrunning a team of spooked runaway mules that broke free of their wagon. We had nowhere to go - the trail was carved into a steep hill so there was no going up. Going down meant certain death for us both. Staying put meant being plowed over by four panicked mules. He kept his cool and galloped us to safety, navigating the terrain and taking care of his person all the way.

We had a special bond and countless adventures. Looking back, I miss him more and more each day. Here we are doing some "trick riding." I was always climbing around on him and he'd just stand there and take it. Don't mind my outfit - it was the Nineties and I just don't know what I was thinking.

Ashley S

My daughter always enjoyed riding horses at my mom's house. The old man of the place is named Cochise - and though once too wild for any of my friends to ride - age caught up to him and he's super safe now. But my mom lives over an hour away and it wasn't feasible to take her there every week to ride. So, when she turned six, I told her she could try horseback riding lessons.

One of her earliest riding lessons on her horse Cochise. -Ashley S

Her first lesson was in the winter and her teacher Annie Gilkey at Double M Stables put her on a big black horse named Peppy. She was pretty scared during her first lesson. She was a tiny little thing and he's a BIG horse. He was a perfect gentleman though and did everything she asked without any attitude. Every week, she rode a different horse that specializes in something different (trails, barrels, poles, jumping, etc.)

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She started off doing private lessons and then moved up to a class with a few other kids. Her progress has been slow and steady. She's finally into skipping over little obstacles aka "jumping," but we are three years in. Horseback riding isn't about jumping on your first ride. It's about connecting with the animal, understanding the basics of telling your horse what it needs to do, learning about tack, proper procedure, horse care, and safety, riding a horse in many different landscapes, and yes even cleaning stalls.

During her time at Double M, it became more and more apparent that she started connecting with one mare named Sugar. She loved riding her. She loved groundwork with her. And you could tell that Sugar was also connecting with her. Because Sugar was a lesson horse, Ava didn't get to ride her every week. She was a big girl on the weeks she didn't ride her but I could just tell the disappointment. So, we'd try to stay after and do things like give her a bath and give her massages.

For her birthday, my daughter's big ask was for her aunt Laura to do a professional photo shoot with her and Sugar. The results were just gorgeous.

LAURA STOLTZ PHOTOGRAPHY

This past month, we were approached by the barn's owner to see if we wanted to lease Sugar which meant my daughter could ride her whenever she wanted. I was beyond thrilled to supply this opportunity for her. I remember my former's co-worker's words. They'll love something unconditionally. The question is - what will that "something" be?

Sometimes my daughter struggles a bit with containing her excessive amounts of energy. But when she's with her horses, everything is relaxed. Horseback riding lessons give her confidence, leadership skills, and above all, give her a passion. Someday she might compete by showing or even decide to get a horse of her own (when she's old enough to go out and clean the stalls every day). But for now, it's just something I let her do for herself because she loves it so much and I love sharing that time with her.

Maybe you or your child would love it too. There are so many benefits from getting up in a saddle and down in the dirt. And there's nothing quite like the smell of a horse barn. It's just... wholesome and simple and free.

With Christmas coming on, it's a great time to skip the stuff and look for experiences. If you and/or your child would like to try out horseback riding lessons or do a family trail ride, there are several places locally to contact including:

Lessons & Boarding

Evansville, IN
(812) 305-6868
Evansville, IN
(812) 499-3403
Newburgh, IN
(812) 853-3495
Newburgh, IN
(812) 490-4001
Chandler, IN
(812) 202-9192
(270) 570-3054
Evansville, IN
(812) 774-7307
Corydon, KY
(270) 957-0234
Evansville IN
8128931252
Evansville, IN

My suggestion is to do your homework. Talk to the instructors and make barn visits to determine which one will be the best fit for you. Or try out a day trail ride which is fun for the whole family.

Day Trail Rides

Santa Claus, IN
(812) 340-2288
Golden Pond, KY
(270) 924-2211
Philpot, KY
(270) 314-9133

To add your stable to the list, contact me at evansville.dme@townsquaremedia.com!

Pam Dawson

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