GTPulse: Learning To Ride at Any Age

I think that it’s wonderful to see students gain, learn, and have the confidence to be able to communicate with an 1100 pound animal. I mean, it’s pretty impressive to see, Kylie, that student that just walked in. She’s, I think eight years old and she rides an 1100 pound animal and it’s like, she’s totally in control and knows what she’s doing. And it really gives anybody but especially, young girls a lot of self-confidence like, wow, I can control this. I can communicate this way.

A sense of skill, power and control are just a few of the reasons why girls have fallen in love with horseback riding. It’s why Marley McManus got started.

There’s just something to be said always for a little girl and their horse. My family was never interested in horses. We lived right downtown Traverse City. It was my grandpa, who was friends with a farm owner and wanted something fun to do with his granddaughter. So I started taking riding lessons. My grandma and grandpa took me and I got my first horse when I was eight. I have owned horses on and off ever since,” she said.

She’s carried her girlhood passions over into an adulthood career teaching people of all ages that it’s never too late to saddle up.

Riding lessons have been one of the few recreational activities that haven’t been heavily impacted by the pandemic. With less to do this winter than normal, Marley wants people to consider picking up a new pastime.

We’re lucky that horseback riding is something that you can absolutely do, and follow all of your COVID protocols. In the beginning, when it’s a very young rider, yes, I may need to stand a little closer to you, but we always wear our masks. After a few lessons, when you’re on your own, I’m standing in the middle of the arena, and you’re out there riding, I mean, we could be 2530 yards away for most of the time. You just have to come in, you learn, you know how to get your horse ready, and the basics of riding. It’s a great activity to learn. It’s a sport that kids can do, adults can do whomever, while you’re kind of trying to practice all your social distancing, and trying to get out of the house and not feel totally trapped.

The classes are taught by Marley and her husband at Northern Pines Farm in Maple City, Michigan. The 45-acre farm is home to just over 50 horses.

“This farm historically has been a hunter jumper farm, so they’re largely what we call big horses, and it’s over fences.”

8-year-old Ky arrives for her lesson with mom as Marley and I are talking. Masked and bundled up, she’s ready to ride. Almost. Before getting started she’s tasked with brushing and saddling up Paris, a pale and lovely Arabian.

Marley hands her a brush and Ky mindfully glides it down Paris’s sides, back, and bum.

“Do you remember what this is?” Marley asks holding up a square of cream-colored fleece. To help coax the answer out of her, Marley prompts, “It goes under the saddle so it’s called…”

“A saddle pad!” Ky finishes, her eyes squinting into a smile.

There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it. They’re really very large animals, and they don’t take care of themselves. So there are some places that you might be able to go take a riding lesson and say, ‘I’d like to show up at 1030 and have my horse ready to go and ride for 30 minutes and be done.’ And that’s not really what my style of teaching or my husband’s. What we do here, it’s sweat equity. You’re learning what we call horse husbandry, you’re learning what to look for maybe those horses aren’t feeling so well today. Maybe it’s a little sore. Maybe it has a tummy ache, or, you know, people always say well, don’t walk behind a horse don’t stand behind a horse and it’s like, okay, that’s true, but do you know why? Let’s learn a little further. It’s not just because horses are malicious. And if you walk back there, they will kick you. There’s a communication between you and the horse that has to be understood.

They aren’t done yet, Ky aces a few more questions about different parts of the harness before Marley unclips Paris from the stall where she was being cleaned and instructed Ky to not let her walk away. When they’re all ready, Ky guides Paris out to the riding arena, the two of them walking steadily side by side with their faces next to each other.

On top of Paris, a small Ky, who stands around five foot is regally perched above all of us. While she and Paris slowly start to move towards a backward walking Marley, another student is practicing jumps on an animated, larger horse. Showmanship and competing are engrained into horseback riding culture but aren’t necessary to enjoy it at any level.

There are definitely some older adults that still participate. I mean, I think it’s one of those things. It’s kind of like golf. You can do it at any age.

Ky and Paris don’t wander too far from Marley, but with each class, she grows a little more confident in her riding ability and strays further away from her careful instructor with each passing week. Classes are $75 an hour and can be scheduled through mcmanusarabians@gmail.com, or by texting/calling Marley at (231) 590-4143. Check them out on Facebook to stay updated.

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Categories: GTPulse