The youngest horse whisperers? Kids earn their equine stars at summer camp

The children who attend summer camp at Cedar Hill Farm make any city-dwelling adult want to venture to a nearby farm, don some cowboy boots and mount a horse.

In a small ceremony last Friday, Aug. 5, children ages 5 to 12 showed off their horse-handling and riding skills at Cedar Hill, owned by Mark and Becky Holt. The kids completed a weeklong summer camp with local resident Stephanie O’Neil, an established competitor in horse jumping, showing, and dressage.

“I feel so tall and powerful when I ride horses,” said 11-year old Emma Hubbard during a break from prepping the horses for show. “Horses are a lot to take care of, but you get a lot out of riding them.”

O’Neil, who’s from Australia, made sure the children understood the work that goes in to owning and riding horses. “The world I come from is a very English show-jumper world, where you hire someone to clean your boots, groom your horses and tack your horse.”

But getting someone else to do the dirty work takes away from the experience, she said. The chores are a necessary part of riding and bonding with a horse, so for the kids in Cedar Hill’s camp, she made sure the experience wasn’t mere playtime. “They cleaned the stall everyday,” said O’Neil. “They mixed feed everyday. … The whole experience is very spiritual, and I wanted the [kids] to experience not just riding, but the caretaking, how the horses felt, what their horses were doing, and all that kind of stuff,” she continued. “I tried to emphasize paying attention to their horses. They had to tell me each day, through grooming, how the horses felt [and] what kind of mood they were in.”

The youngest rider, a 5-year-old girl, was not afraid to tackle the work, even though her standing height was about halfway up the horse’s legs.

“The older kids really took her under their wings,” O’Neil said. “She wanted to be right in there. She wanted to help tack. She wanted to pick the [horses’] feet. She wanted to hose them off, and I would have to be like, ‘wait a minute.’”

O’Neil practices natural horsemanship, a riding theory that emphasizes positive enforcement and communicating with horses in their own language. This approach came through in the students’ attitudes toward the animals in their care.

“I like that they’re really sensitive,” said 10-year-old Madison Meres, who started riding horses about a year-and-a-half ago. “I want to keep riding, and I will definitely ride horses when I grow up.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.