November 19, 2001
Born to ride
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
It's evident by her effervescent smile that five-year-old Madison has discovered sheer bliss. The winsome kindergartner sits astride an adorable brown and white pony named Rosie. Could life get any better?
But don't get the wrong idea. Madison isn't at a pony ride at the zoo or park. Madison is taking classes. She's learning to ride Rosie by herself and has been focused on the task since Labor Day.
She already knows quite a bit about horses and their equipment. She's also learning about grooming. Madison knows how to clean Rosie's hooves and she does it with the seriousness of a doctor performing surgery.
According to Madison's mom, Dena Hart, horseback riding has opened up a new world for her daughter. She's learned what a pick is and how it works. She knows the different kinds of brushes. Says Hart, "She knows which saddle is Rosie's and where to go to get clean blankets."
Horseback riding, she says, has helped Madison realize her capabilities. "I just remind her, if she can carry a saddle, she can carry a bag of groceries."
Also, the lessons have expanded Madison's knowledge about horses. She can tell her family and friends what the difference is between a donkey and mule. "It's nice for her to have her own thing," says Hart, pleased that her daughter has taken to her lessons with such fervor. "She's teaching us."
Madison is one of 20 students currently learning to ride at Silver Fox Training Stable in Woodinville.
"They get the whole program," says Anne Christensen, owner and trainer. "We teach them all about horse care. And, we not only teach them about riding and form, but we teach them a little about horse philosophy and horse behavior."
Christensen has been teaching riding for 29 years. She says riding classes teach a whole lot more than riding. They teach character as well as responsibility and leadership. "A horse needs to be led," she explains. Riding also teaches assertiveness as the students learn to guide the horse.
"A horse isn't like a motorcycle. You have to give the proper commands and have the trust/respect relationship."
Four tried-and-true steady horses are on hand at the stable to work with students. In addition to Rosie, there's Lady, Star and Penny. Many of Christensen's students attend public and private schools. However, some are home schooled and others are moms. Also, a number of the students participate in nationally rated horse shows for jumping horses.
Learning new and interesting facts about horses is part of the fun for Christensen's students. But even more fun is getting to know the horse. Many of the young students change their perception of a horse once they begin lessons. "I think they all think [at first], put a quarter in and get a pony ride," Christensen remarks. But her students, she says, start to realize that each horse has a personality and that a really good rider will bring out the best in each horse.
Bringing out the best in a horse is something Christensen knows. She has been riding since she was five and says that she loved horses right from the start. "I think I was born with a hoof print on my heart," says Christensen.
At age 14, she became a riding instructor when her own beloved instructor, Harriet Jaquette, passed away. She began teaching in her instructor's place. When her beginning riders had a problem with a horse, such as misbehavior, Christensen worked through the problem with the horse. She communicated to the horse what she wanted him to do.
"You have to be firm with them and also reinforce the good behavior."
She teaches her students that horses want clear instructions of what the rider wants. "Horses love to have a job," she says. "They really thrive when they have a job."
Horses understand applause and they enjoy it. As an example, she says that show horses competing in the hunter jumper competitions have to negotiate a course and perform eight jumps. When they've completed the job and hear the audience clapping, horses respond.
"Their heads perk up, their ears perk up and their eyes get brighter," says Christensen.
And, it isn't just the kids who are learning about horses and their behavior. Christensen has two moms' classes.
In the classes, she says, the moms talk and participate in horse games as well as in organized trail rides. "It's a fun class to socialize and learn about horses. A month ago we rode down to Redhook [Brewery] to have lunch. They have a hitching post," she says, adding that the trail rides are beautiful. "Last week we had sun and flowers and the fall colors."
Mentioning that some of her clients call her the original "horse whisperer" because of her understanding of horses and their personality, Christensen says, "I always had a good ability to make horses perform."
Her father, who is present while she talks, adds his insight: "Anne has, clearly, a natural talent for interacting with animals."
And it is the interaction with the horses that brings richness to the lives of those, like Madison, who are learning to ride. Dena Hart is beginning to think that her daughter's newfound interest in riding may be the one that sticks with her.
Although Madison loves gymnastics and playing her violin, they aren't her priorities at this time. Says Hart, "She said she would give up violin čbut she wouldn't give up Rosie."