Barn Manager at Coyote Hill (Harrisburg, MO)
Path to Coyote Hill
I am from Chicago, Illinois, which is funny because I mostly grew up in the city. People ask why I don’t move back, but the reason is that there’s not too many horses there. I now live in Harrisburg, Missouri, with a population of 266. I think you could fit the whole town in the area of one of my last apartment buildings.
I had equestrian jobs previously. I worked at summer horse camps when I was getting my Associate’s degree. Then I came to William Woods and took equestrian classes exclusively. After graduating, I stuck around in Columbia, Missouri, and got a job at Riverwood Farms in nearby Rocheport. Originally I was working to lease a horse and then after a little bit, I was flat out hired. My boss said she liked how hardworking I was and that I was always willing to work. I stuck with them for about three years. I then went back and got a duel Master’s degree from North Park University in Chicago, which I am still working on now. I trained the next person at Riverwood Farms to take over for me so it would be a smooth transition.
I worked a few odd jobs between then while I was working on my Master’s and then I got my current job at Coyote Hill, which is home for abused and neglected children.
Happy to Teach Beginners
One of my memories from William Woods was when I was in my capstone class and Saddle Seat issues and we were talking about what are career goals were. I wrote down that I wanted to teach beginners, and if I had nothing but a steady stream of beginners I would be happy. And I remember Gayle Lampe came up to me and said I would be successful and happy with that outlook, because there’s always beginner riders. That was ten years ago – fast forward to now and I do the therapeutic riding program for foster kids. I have a steady stream of beginners now, with a year being the average time they stay with us. I have Saddlebreds, Missouri Fox Trotters, and Quarter Horses. My same rule still applies – if it’s nice to the kids, has four legs, a head, and at least a little bit of a tail, I will take it. We love our horses here, we think they’re all unicorns that give my kids wings.
I also remember that I had a lesson horse I really bonded with while attending William Woods. His name is Vaya Con Dios. After I left, they were looking to retire him, and everyone was saying how he belonged with me. Sandy Sessink gave me a call and said she heard I needed this horse in my pasture. I was so happy to have him with me.
Hard Work Beats Talent
I remember another time at William Woods when Linda Parkhurst addressed the whole class, looked at me as she said that hard works beats talent when talent does not work hard. And that lesson is so true. I have girls walk in here at Coyote Hill with natural talent. We also service the outside community here. I help with a group of home schoolers that come in and we have veterans come over from the VA Hospital. Some people walk in with serious horse experience, but the minute something gets difficult, they quit. I tell them they’ve plateaued and it’s time to improve their skills and they just stop where they’re at. Then I have kids who come in and have to try. They have to try to get the hoof picked up off the ground, they have to really try to steer the horse. Those are the kids that have grit. That once they decide where they are going in life they are going to succeed. They can handle the tough moments and push through them. Working hard is normal to them.
It’s All About the Kids
I tell people all the time that the number one rule, when you have horses as well as children with traumas and stresses, is that you need to plan and plan weeks and months in advance. Then the day of, you need to be prepared to throw your plans out the window. I’m always responsible for the barn at all times and live on the property. I might have a lesson planned, and then that day the child finds out their parents have given up the parental rights, so I have to adapt. I’ll go up that child, and grab a bag of carrots, and let them feed their favorite horse while they express their feelings. They will admit things in front of their horse that they would not talk about at other places.
You plan and make decisions, but you do not have to stick to them. Our goal is different than other barns, we’re not looking to make the next best rider or best horse. We are looking to make mentally stable children. We talk about anything from ice cream, to their siblings, to their parents. We go on trail rides some days and have a great ride and a lot of laughs.
One current program priority is to have all the children fill out goals sheets. That way they are not competing against the other kids and they are working on personal goals. We have a lot of turnover at Coyote Hill because our goal is to reunite children with their parents, so we often have a brand new group. I want them to work on what they want to learn. I had one girl who wanted to work on photos. So I gave her my phone to take pictures of the horses. She has amazing natural talent for it. We would have never discovered that if we had not given her a camera.
Time for Yourself
If I really need to make myself happy, because this can be a really emotionally stressful job, on Saturdays when we don’t have lessons I go and clean stalls by myself and listen to music. I talk to my horses and I talk to God and stay grounded in my faith. I just really love being in my barn, and being proud of it. I like to grab a horse and go on a nice trail ride by myself.
My advice for students is that you need to take care of you. Not be selfish, or self-centered, but you do need to take care of yourself. If you neglect self-care and do not set boundaries on what you can and cannot do, then you also will not be able to be there for others or for the horses. I lift weights to build up muscle so if I have an especially hard day at the barn, my muscles are ready for it. If you pick up that extra shift that you know you cannot handle and use the excuse that college students are supposed to be busy, that is not taking care of yourself. You need to take thirty minutes or an hour each week to just have time to take care of yourself. Also talk to your guidance counselor and do not hold in anything that is stressing you out.
Also for equestrian students, get as much experience as you can with horses in any discipline you can. I get horses in with all different backgrounds and have to translate their training to work for our kids here. That way you can meet the horse halfway and have better communication.