If there’s someone you know who is dreaming about learning to ride a horse the St. Charles Park District can put you in the saddle and fulfill those wishes.
For more than 20 years the St. Charles Park District has partnered with local horse farms to offer classes for beginners of all ages. The strong connection with these local, family-owned horse farms allows residents to explore the sport.
And it all starts with a little match-making, explains Carrie Sibley, the manager and activity director for Tower Hill Stables.
“We fit the horse to the rider,” Sibley said.
Since the early 2000s the Hampshire horse farm has partnered with the park district to offer lessons for beginners, starting as young as age 4. Instructors carefully select from their school horses to fit each rider’s profile and help the rider learn confidence, proper riding techniques and how to tack or saddle up the horse as well.
And lessons always include instruction on horse care, giving participants opportunities to groom and build bonds between the horse and rider.
“The students love it and it’s very impactful to be with the horses and to learn to respect these large animals,” Sibley said.
Alex Weidner, Youth and Aquatics Supervisor for the St. Charles Park District, said the partnerships between the local horse farms provide ample times and class options for residents. Summer is a great time to register for the horse-riding camps, offering a multi-day opportunity to get a taste of horse riding and horse care.
“It’s been a great partnership,” Sibley said. “People are able to have fun riding without a huge commitment.”
And riding lessons aren’t merely for young people.
“I went horse riding on a vacation a few years ago and after that my sister and I decided to take lessons,” Weidner said, adding it was so much fun learning how to ride and care for the horse too.
“I recognized what beautiful, majestic animals horses are and they are so friendly,” Weidner said.
The St. Charles Park District offers Horsemanship for Adults at Dunham Woods Farms in Elgin. The classes are popular with couples, who sign up as a date night as well as adults making time for their own wish to learn more about horse riding, said Rose Muenzenmay, head of operations for Dunham Woods Farms.
“For a lot of adults, it’s always been their dream to learn to ride and we help them with that dream,” Muenzenmay said. “It’s a really neat opportunity for adults to do something for themselves.”
She also sees families who purchase the park district horse riding lessons and camps as presents. Riding lessons as a birthday or graduation gift can provide a great experience.
At Dunham Woods Woods Farm instructors also provide lessons on riding and horse care.
“Horse riding isn’t just mechanical,” Muenzenmay said. “There’s a lot of trust built between the riding and the horse. When the riders start working around the horses, caring and grooming, they build that relationship and build trust and respect with the horses.”
Muenzenmay’s parents, Bill and Michele purchased Dunham Woods Farm in the mid 1970s and have partnered with local park districts more than 30 years. Muenzenmay said often students who start out with park district classes to get a taste of the sport find themselves enamored and soon they are taking more classes.
Muenzenmay grew up riding horses and performing in horse shows. Today, she also serves as a coach for the farm’s team, which competes in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, and said more than half of her team is comprised of members who started their riding careers taking classes offered through the local park districts.
“They love the program so much they stick around and soon they start private lessons and now many of them are in shows competing all across the Midwest,” Muenzenmay said.
And while the lessons emphasis a relationship between the rider and horse, Muenzenmay added that the camaraderie among riders can foster friendships over the shared love of horses and the sport.
“Those who come for lessons might meet and make new friends,” she said.
For a current class schedule, visit stcparks.org/register.