LEISURE HORSE SENSE

A guide to Dallas riding stables.

WE NEEDN’T waste time rhapsodizing about horses to justify our affection for them. They’re beautiful. They’re powerful. And unlike some of the beautiful, powerful material things we admire, they’re alive.

Learning to control another living thing teaches you more about your ego and id than you’d gather from sessions with expensive therapists. And the benefits can be quite pronounced with children. Riding-relationships with horses can transport a child to a healthier state of mind, one that is more self-confident and self-aware.

At this stage, here is what you know: Your kid, let’s say it’s a daughter, is driving you crazy. Last night, you found a horse book beneath her pillow. This morning, she reached across the breakfast table for the classified ads. Perhaps she’s named her three-speed bike “Beauty,” and when she operates the hand brakes she says “Whoa.”

You’ve got a problem. And if it’s not your kid, it may be the kid in you. Plenty of adults, women especially, want to ride. If you’ve ridden a little and liked it, it’s natural to want to ride well. So, where are the problems, you ask? The problems come in the form of two questions: How far are you willing to drive? And how much are you willing to spend?

There are interests more expensive than horseback riding: Skiing in the Alps or seeking water buffalo in unsettled regions of Africa, for instance, don’t come cheap. A handful of stables relatively near town will probably be able to accommodate a horseless rider once a week for a little less than $ 1,000 a year. You may not even need to invest in a full-fledged riding costume. The classes are directed primarily toward pleasure riders – people who simply wish to ride for fun. One thing to keep in mind: In many people’s minds, once-a-week lessons lack intensity. You can spend half your time relearning what you were taught the previous week. If you take the next logical step and move to a twice-a-week format, you’ve doubled your money, which may be more than you wanted to spend. Obviously, it doubles your commute, too.

Before mentioning the barns that we’d consider best for the fairly casual beginner, we should clarify one point lest we insult some good teachers. Many of the instructors specializing in beginning techniques can also teach highly sophisticated stuff, and several of them take their students to shows.

Glen Lakes Stables. Western-pleasure teacher Tinker Buckley has developed her own style of instruction. She starts everyone from age 5 to 40 on a quarter horse in English saddle. Nothing is left to the student’s impulse or intuition because Buckley rides her own horse directly at the student’s side; she holds both sets of reins. Her kids have done well at 4-H training shows, and her father, trainer Danny Stewart, has room for boarder horses in the barn. Buckley frequently videotapes the lessons and plays them back for detailed analysis. Indoor and outdoor facilities are available. All lessons are 30 minutes long, private and $15 apiece. Eight-week sessions Monday through Thursday. 2715 E. Parker Road, Piano. 423-2856.

Capricorn. Owner Pat Easterling has a lot of business running through this small and limited operation, but her classes are pretty effective for kids. “My theory,” she says, “is that you don’t need private lessons until you’re good.” Her instructors teach both English and Western-pleasure to SMU and community college physical education classes. She tries to limit her classes to 10 students in one of the two outdoor rings. When it rains, students are given classroom instruction. This is a very casual, relaxed barn housing 17 school geldings. Jumping instruction available up to 2-foot-9. The price is right: $8 a pop. 27 Highland, Piano. 234-0285.

Doggo Stable. English and Western instructor Kathy Voelkel teaches beginning and intermediate students the basic balance seat. The stable has an outdoor ring and informal 48-stall barn set on six acres with trail riding access to 200 acres. Some students board, but there are three school horses available to beginners. Private lessons are $10 an hour; full-care board is $150 a month. 2002 Doggo Road, Grand Prairie. 262-9213.

Sam Riley Stables. Instructor Candee Carlson will teach Western or saddleseat (English), although she prefers the latter, on one of her seven school horses, which she says range in disposition from docile to spirited. Most of the horses on the place are American saddlebreds or Morgans. They can board and train, as well as teach training. Pasture board, $125 including feed. Box stall board, $175; $300 a month to train horse and rider. Lessons run 30 minutes to an hour, $10 group; $14 private. Route 6, McKinney. 1-542-6187.

Bell’s Training Stable. This is an offbeat and older place that might not be worth mentioning if not for Denny Bell’s dedication to good horsemanship and his devotion to his students. This is really a training barn; Bell says he can get a young horse to behave well at a walk, trot and canter after 30 days. His students are treated more like family than paying clients. They come in every morning except Wednesday and Sunday, and they take turns riding (basic balance seat) and then watching the others ride. Bell’s is fine for the dedicated student who has plenty of time. Close personal attention is given to each pupil. Lessons are about three hours long and are $25 each. 159 W. Belt Line, DeSoto. 223-8369.



THE FOLLOWING four stables are, by our way of thinking, the “anything is possible” barns of the Dallas area. In that way, they are our favorites. Like beginning-lesson barns, these places are low-key. But like the competitive show barns listed in the last section, these establishments demand a sincere commitment to horseback riding and a desire to work.

Wagon Wheel. This stable is the most relaxed of the next four, and although it might appear to be run-down, the owners are in the process of building a new arena. The Wagon Wheel’s instructor, Donna Vale, has had a distinguished career. She studied in Germany and was the instructor at Las Colinas before its expansion. A new dressage arena is being built, and a fairly significant cross-country course is spread out over 40 acres. Some of the jumps, as well as portions of the environ, seem to be deteriorating, but one gets the feeling that the people are fixing it up. Vale’s 13-year-old son, Aaron, is considered by observers and participants in the horse community to be an up-and-coming Olympic-team candidate. Full-care board costs $175 a month. Lessons are $12 for a group class, $10 if you ride your own horse. Private lessons are $25 an hour. Route 1, Box 353, Coppell. 462-0894.

Susar Farms. Public-school art teacher Susan Mayo sets a relaxed learning tone at this predominantly Arabian horse barn, but she is also capable of demanding a tremendous amount of attention and cooperation from her protégés. Her horse training style is loving, and she insists upon having the owner involved every step of the way. All lessons are private and based upon dressage (or European-style) training. She handpicks her students by seeking individuals who are not only wanting to work with their own horse, but are also willing to participate in the operation of the barn. The stalls, by the way, are unusually large, and her boarding fee is low: $140 a month. Each lesson is $15 and of an unspecified length. “We set goals at the beginning of the session,” she says, “and work until we achieve that goal. Some lessons last four hours if it takes that long to do what we set out to accomplish.” Mayo also sponsors eight shows a year and Tuesday and Thursday clinics. Route 1, Box 42-A, Lewisville. 436-1089.

Zembrod. A clean, nicely laid-out place, Zembrod’s has been home to registered Thoroughbreds, mostly, for more than 18 years. Evelyn Zembrod teaches a contained kind of English jumping style with a concern, she says, “for excellence.” Quite a few, but by no means all, of her students board with her or nearby. What’s most exciting to her now is a riding program for physically and mentally disturbed people that is, she says, the only area program approved by the North American Riding Handicapped Association (NARHA). The lessons for disabled kids and adults are free, but there is a waiting list. All arenas are outside. Zem-brod says she wants to find riders who “want to learn as much as I want to teach them,” but she does not pressure anyone to compete in shows. $200 full board; $15 a private or group lesson with no more than five in a single class. 2141 E. South-lake Blvd., Southlake. (817) 481-2857.

Rick Gabel Stables. When Gabel decided to move to Texas in 1975, he studied North Dallas locations and chose to move onto 25 acres in Burleson, south of Fort Worth. While the stable seems far away to most Dallas-area students, the commute can be quicker than trying to drive north fighting traffic. Gabel estimates his spread is about 45 minutes from Fair Park. The stables are designed for the beginning student and the specialized boarder; Gabel wants to enlist both. Very good beginning and intermediate instruction is available from Andy Wittjen and Noreen Doyle. Private half-hours are $8; private hours are $15. Groups in the ring on the flat are taught for $13 an hour; over-fence groups have longer lessons at $15 each. And here’s something quite useful and unusual: Students are permitted to lease school horses for $7.50 an hour so they can practice between lessons. Gabel, whose orientation is hunter-jumper, teaches the advanced students for $20 group or private and $13 if they board. Indoor and outdoor rings are available. Gabel estimates that half his competitive show students do not own their own horses. This makes this stable considerably less expensive than the outfits that encourage you to have your own animal. Route 3, Box 21, Burleson. (817) 293-1723.



THE REMAINING stables get relatively intense when it comes to trailing the show circuit -not that some of the students at the previously listed places weren’t. This is all moderately confusing to the newcomer, we know. Some of these next stables have school horses – but from what we surmised as each institution’s “thrust,” many of the serious students at the following stables own their own steeds.

The last eight of the next nine stables represent what some people are calling “the Eastern invasion.” Dressage and hunter-jumper instruction was difficult to find in Texas 15 years ago; as you can see, it has swept the countryside north and west of Dallas and is obviously here to stay.

Little Brook (formerly Preston Trails). Instructors Karen Hubbard and Marilyn Norris Shelton have amassed a good bit of quarter-horse experience between the two of them, and most of their students are training for quarter-horse shows. They teach English and Western pleasure on a 75-acre breeding farm with indoor and outdoor arena facilities. Lessons are always private, at $15 an hour. Two of the horses belong to the school. Boarding is $200 a month, $350 a month if the horse is in training. Route 1, Box 86-B, Piano. 424-6163.

Las Colinas Equestrian Center. Wow! What a barn! It’s so fancy that you may feel underdressed in your jeans. The center is well-staffed and beautifully designed to accommodate 104 12-by-12-foot stalls with automatic waterers and grain feeders, as well as overhead heating systems, special grooming areas and wash racks. The covered arena measures 150-by-300 feet, above which hangs an air-conditioned, plushly furnished observation lounge. Training director Haynes Stevens has most recently been developing hunters and jumpers in Clearwater, Florida. He and his staff offer lessons every day except Monday. There are 12 school horses. A group lesson with no more than eight people costs $12 a half-hour. Half-hour private lessons are $15. Two different styles of board are available: standard is $230; custom care is $280. 600 Royal Lane, Irving. 869-0600.

Willow Bend. Long respected for its beautiful grounds and fine instruction, Willow Bend is now completely private; in order to ride you can join the club at a one-time minimum “social fitness” fee of $750. There are no school horses, but members of the club will work out leasing arrangements with you. Three instructors teach hunt seat, dressage and polo. Riding lessons are $10 an hour, group; $20 for a half-hour, private; $30 an hour private. These prices do not include a $10 lesson leasing fee for non-owners. FM Road 544, Piano. 248-6298.

Trophy Club Equestrian Center. Col. Donald W. Nance, the man who originally organized the program for Willow Bend, is now the master of ceremonies and main instructor at Trophy Club. The development is new, but the barn is said to be 125 years old. Its age shows, but some 30 students get excellent classical balance-seat instruction here. School horses are available, though some are boarded. Unlimited trails along Lake Grapevine make this a lovely spot, but the commute is one of the longest. Nance is chairman of the board of directors of the Dallas Hunter-Jumper Club. Nance begins his pupils with a $25 private hour followed by $12.50 group lessons with discounts available for blocks of eight. Trophy Club Drive, Roanoke. 430-0491.

Creenbriar. German-trained owner Hans Kallenberger likes to bring up beginners and help them buy horses, which he then takes on as boarders. He and his working students travel to A-rated hunter and combined training shows. Beginners start on one of two school horses. Lessons are $15 a half-hour, $30 an hour; all private. Board includes lessons, and runs $250 a month. Special clinics are organized periodically. FM Road 544, Lewis-ville. 492-2724.

C-Bar-B. Charlie and Shannon Stevens and their assistant, Nea Trefonas, teach balance seat as a foundation for hunters and jumpers. After moving from Wyoming and teaching here for less than two years, they are still seeking very serious show-quality riders who have “the means” and will board. Some of the nicest jumping equipment in the area can be found here. Monthly board is $200. Training board is $375. Lessons are $15 for private half-hours and $15 for one-hour group with up to four per class. Route 1, Box 55F, Highway 1171, Lewisville. 221-1116.

4-M Farm. Here, you’ll find aggressive, serious instruction for competitive show riders. Owner and director Mike McCormick was touring in California as we went to press so we feel unable to elaborate on this barn. High Road, Flowermound. 430-0301.

Running Fox. Trainer Jim Henson teaches hunt-seat and jumping to kids and adults. Twelve adult students are boarding and traveling to shows with Henson now. Lessons are $20 an hour. Call for boarding rates. Route 1, Box 101, Argyle. (817) 464-3295.

Dale and Patty Milligan. This is thelocal center for American saddlebreds, apretty performance breed most commonlyfound in the Midwest. Students are taughton 10 school horses in saddleseat style.Most of the work is in the ring. Saddlebreds don’t jump, but saddleseat riderscan advance to other seat styles. Outdoorrings and a 50-by-280-foot indoor arenaprovide proper, if not a bit formal, lessonsettings. Students are not allowed to tackup their horses, and there are no boarders.Buggy-driving lessons at $15 an hour areavailable. Private half-hour lessons are$10; a group half-hour is $7.50; all lessons are taught by Patty Milligan. DaleMilligan trains and works with the mostadvanced amateurs. Students are encouraged to show when they’re prepared. 3116E. Parker Road, Piano. 422-5096.

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