2009-08-08 / Top News

Adult Riding Clinic Produces More Knowledgeable Riders

By Kerri Jo Molitor

Lisa Eckhardt (right) reminds Julie Rilenge to always look where she wants to go while riding a horse during the adult riding clinic. The clinic was such a success the Mackinac Horsemen's Association is planning another one in August. Lisa Eckhardt (right) reminds Julie Rilenge to always look where she wants to go while riding a horse during the adult riding clinic. The clinic was such a success the Mackinac Horsemen's Association is planning another one in August. The Mackinac Horseman's Association (MHA) has finished its first adult horse riding clinic with happy and more knowledgeable riders, and calls for a repeat performance.

The clinic, offered once a week for three weeks in Great Turtle Park, focused on teaching the riders the basics of horse care. For the first session, trainer Lisa Eckhardt and MHA president Maryanke Alexander taught the four riders how to brush a horse, how to tack a horse, and what to wear when riding a horse. At the end of the first session, they walked the horses with someone walking nearby for safety.

"It's not all about just getting on the horse and going for a ride," said Ms. Alexander. "There is so much more to horse care - tacking them, safety issues, walking around the horse, basically having people get to know the horses with a dummy's lesson."

For the second session, the riders were graduated to riding the horses, once they got the hang of putting on the saddle and bridle.

"They kind of learn the hard way so they don't forget," Ms. Alexander said.

Mrs. Eckhardt focused on position, squeezing, and how to ask a horse to stop, go forward, or turn around.

"All those little things when you get on a horse that you kind of take for granted, but you really don't know how," Ms. Alexander explained. "There is a correct way, so we're taking all these in baby steps to make it as fun as possible."

Riders were taught to steer the horse with their legs, releasing pressure on the side of a desired turn, and also to always look where they want to go.

One seemingly small, but important, lesson was how to mount the horse. Grabbing the mane of the horse is much kinder than grabbing the saddle while mounting, Mrs. Eckhardt said. A horse's back is similar to a human's, in that it can feel everything that touches it. When a rider grabs the saddle, it slides and pushes on the horse's back. Their manes are much stronger than human hair and offer a good handle when riders hoist themselves up.

Marcia Dunnigan took the course because she wanted to ride the trails with her friends, but wasn't comfortable enough on a horse. One thing she said she learned was the importance of staying close to a horse when you walk around it, that way if the horse kicks, there will be less power behind it when it hits.

"I just felt comfortable," she said after a successful third session. "Finally, I was like, yeah, you're right, my legs are controlling the horse. I got to the point where it worked! It doesn't look like you are doing anything out there, but once you start controlling the horse, it's really fun."

Another rider, Julie Rilenge, calls herself a "consistent beginner" because she has taken many lessons with Mrs. Eckhardt but said she hasn't advanced very far. The clinic, she said, taught her a lot, especially how sensitive the horse is to the rider's every movement.

"It makes you a lot more confident so you're not afraid," she said.

Joe and Diane Brandonisio didn't attend the whole clinic, but showed up for the last class to see what it was about. Their daughters ride horses, Mr. Brandonisio said, and they wanted to keep up with what they are doing, and the family is thinking about getting a carriage someday.

"I just want to learn as much as I can about horses," he said.

Jennifer Wohletz, another who attended only the last session, said her daughter and her niece inspired her to take lessons because she wants to ride with them. She said she has ridden a little, but never with any knowledge of what she was doing.

"They told me if they can do it, then I should be able to do it," she said.

Because the clinic was such a success, many new people are interested and some even want to take it again. MHA is planning to host another clinic in August, Ms. Alexander said. The class size is maintained at four riders because that is a manageable number, but Ms. Alexander stressed that organizers wouldn't turn anyone down and would schedule more than one class if necessary. Those who are interested may contact Leanne Brodeur of the Recreation Department at 847- 3853.

"MHA really wants to make this available to everyone of all ages, not just children," she said. "Here you are on Mackinac Island and what better place to learn how to ride, so that's why we are offering the opportunity."

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