Like many animal loving kids, my third grade daughter Paige has been interested in horseback riding lessons for a few years now. I felt somewhat overwhelmed at the idea of finding and signing her up for lessons. I mean, where do you go horseback riding in the suburbs, how do lessons work, and how much would it cost? Recently, Paige and I had the opportunity to experience a horseback riding lesson with Jacki Larisch of Creekside Farm, which resides at Indian Creek Farm in Hawthorn Woods.
I was very impressed with the entire process–it was much more thorough and comprehensive than I had expected. At Creekside Farms, horseback riding lessors are about much more than just riding the horses. Jacki makes sure her students learn to care for the horses, spend time bonding with the animals, and learn to ride them properly and safely.
As we drove in, I was struck by how lovely the stable area looked, with fresh vibrant flowers and easy parking. It is tucked off of Gilmer Road, which has quite a bit of traffic, but the vibe is so quiet and peaceful. Jacki told me that the serene atmosphere helps to keep the horses calm, they always try to keep it quiet around the stables. My daughter and I just barely made it on time to our lesson, as our GPS led us to a location about mile west of the actual farm. Jacki had warned me ahead of time about this possible problem, and we were able to find it fairly easily with her added directions.
Jacki greeted us at the entrance, and she immediately started working with Paige. First, she helped Paige get fitted with a helmet and boots. Most kids who take lessons end up getting their own gear, but Jacki does have some extras on hand for new clients to borrow. The helmet is always required, and sturdy boots with a heel as well, so that riders’ feet don’t slip out of the stirrups. Once Paige was suited up, it was time to meet our pony, Bunny.
Jacki led us back to Bunny’s stall and let Paige help get her lead on and lead her to the grooming area. Jacki expects her students to get right in and help in all aspects of taking care of the animals, including grooming. Bunny was an older, very calm pony, that was a great size for a younger rider. For her lessons, Jacki likes her students to curry (rub with a hand towel type glove), hard brush, soft brush, comb the mane, and foot pick the animal. The grooming process is a lot of work, but it’s a great way for the student to get to bond with the animal, and learn how important it is to take good care of the horses and ponies. Jacki was so helpful in showing Paige what to do, where to stand to be safe, and how to do each step. I was very impressed how she spoke to Paige with respect, as well as effectively conveyed her expectations of what Paige could and should be doing. Jacki doesn’t dumb it down; she knows that the kids are more than able to help, and she makes it fun while also imparting the importance of proper grooming of the animals.
Readying Bunny took us a good half-hour, but Jacki assured us that as students become more comfortable and familiar with the process, it’s much quicker. Most of her students come about 15 to 30 minutes before their actual riding lesson to get their horse ready. Once the grooming part was done, she showed Paige how to tack the horse, and get all of the gear on to make Bunny ready to ride. Then it was time to get in the ring.
Beginners at Creekside Farm always ride in the indoor ring, which is basically a big sandbox. When we were having our lesson, two older girls (about 12 years of age) were already in the ring practicing with another teacher, and Jacki made sure to go over safety and etiquette to share the ring. Once inside, she taught Paige how to mount the horse, how to sit with proper posture, and how to hold on to the reins. As Paige got the hang of how to sit with proper posture (it’s all about the core!), Jacki led Bunny around the walls of the ring, taught Paige how to kick the horse to start, and the basics of posting, which is basically rising and falling with the rhythm of the horse, rather than just bouncing around. Paige got the horse up to a trot, and actually started to find her rhythm posting on her first lesson for a little bit. Jacki was very encouraging, while also being very particular about making sure her posture and leg position was accurate. It’s very important to Jacki that her riders learn to ride accurately and safely, so she will keep students working on a skill until it’s just right. For Paige’s first time riding, I was pleased with how Jacki got her up and going, and looking comfortable on the horse.
The riding part of our lesson wrapped up with some fun tricks to get more comfortable on the horse. One fun trick she taught Paige was to go “around the world,” basically, shifting your legs to one side, then to the back, then the other side, and then back to the front. Paige then learned to dismount safely and lead Bunny back out of the ring. At the end of the lesson, Jacki asked if we had time to stick around and finish her post-ride grooming. Paige was willing, so she went through the same steps as before the ride. She even got the foot pick out and cleaned out Bunny’s hooves. We then led Bunny back to her stable and said goodbye. Bunny was a great learning pony, patient and gentle. She even licked her lips while Paige was grooming her, which is a sign she likes what is going on. Paige loved that.
Overall, I was very impressed with our experience with Jacki at Creekside Farms. She treated Paige and the animals with so much respect. I could tell she takes both the care of horses and riding of horses very seriously, and with a lot of passion. I also like that it’s not a stuffy or elitist atmosphere. She wants to make riding accessible to kids of all ages, and fun. I was worried that Paige might have thought it was a little too much “work,” and not just a ride on a horse, but Paige told me she thought the whole experience was great and would definitely go back.
Jacki crafts her program to focus on a hands-on experience with the animal and develop riders to love the sport. It is a lifestyle for people like her who have grown up in the equestrian world (her parents are both active Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) level Grand Prix dressage riders, and her uncle Ted is a trainer for Tempel Farms). It’s not just an activity. Jacki believes that riding and working with horses develops many life skills including time management, dedication, goal setting, and responsibility, among others.
If you have someone in your life that loves horses and wants to learn to ride, I recommend trying out Creekside Farms. Jacki is always taking new riding clients for hunter/jumper lessons, training, and showing for all ages and abilities. Right now she is running a new client special:
Buy 2 lessons and get 1 half off
Regular lesson price is $55 a lesson, or $50 a lesson with a prepaid lesson card of 10 lessons (a $50 savings)
Jacki recommends that students take a minimum of one lesson a week–but she encourages commitment of any level. The only way to improve with the sport is to get on the horse. Riders who are more frequent with a schedule typically advance more efficiently.
According to Jacki, learning the basic skills is the biggest hurdle at the beginning, but as riders develop muscle memory and feel with the animal (which is achieved with frequency and time spent in the saddle) then they can really begin to advance to more complex challenges, such as jumping courses. Also, with frequency comes comfort and confidence with the animal. Volunteer opportunities may be available for more advanced students, such as assisting with camps, clinics, birthday parties and general work around the farm. In return, riders can earn extra time in the saddle, in addition to their weekly lessons. Jacki encourage her riders to try to find time to practice outside of regular lessons if they can by also offering open rides ($25 each).
Plus, Creekside Farm Summer Camp registration is open for summer 2016. Three separate, week-long sessions are available to children ages 6-18 (preferable for those who have taken at least one lesson with Jacki prior to the start of camp). The camp day runs from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with lunch included in the cost. The first half of camp is focused on caring for the animals (grooming and even cleaning out stalls) plus other activities such as crafts and games. The second half of camp is focused on riding in the ring on the horses. Camp registration includes a t-shirt, goody bag and daily lunch. Campers should bring “street clothes” including jeans and tennis shoes, plus riding attire. Water and Gatorade will be provided. Camp sessions for 2016 are as follows:
Session 1: June 20-24, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Session 2: July 18-22, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Session 3: August 8-12, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
25143 N. Gilmer Rd., Hawthorn Woods (located at Indian Creek Farm)
Disclosure: The author received a complimentary riding lesson in order to facilitate this review. All content and opinions expressed are the author’s own. Creekside Farm is a paid advertising partner of Little Lake County.