Reporting Mike Binkley
HAMEL, Minn. (WCCO) — You probably know that Minnesotans are among the national leaders in terms of theaters, golfers and boaters per capita.
But did you know that Hennepin County is among the top 10 in the number of horses owned per capita?
Skyrock Farm in Hamel has been saddling up blue ribbon-winning horse jumpers for years.
Bill Nunn is an award-winning rider who has owned Skyrock Farm for more than 30 years.
“Each horse is a little bit different,” Nunn said, “a little bit different personality.”
Skyrock features 10 horses of different sizes and abilities that students can ride as they learn the basics.
The learning process is slow and incremental — mostly getting the humans to realize how the horses think.
“They understand our tone, they understand our body language,” Nunn said, “and we really have to understand theirs.”
Trainer Ashley Woodhouse said the rider will be doing very little as the horse approaches a jump.
“You’ll see, there’s not a lot of action going on on our part,” Woodhouse said. “It’s more silent cues with our legs and we can make minor adjustments but we’re not ‘riding them’ like you see in some of the western movies, telling them to jump.”
The horses will make it clear when they’re not feeling right about a particular jump.
“It’s communication and appreciation for what the other one is doing,” Woodhouse said. “These horses aren’t necessarily pets. They’re your partner, so you have to respect them and they’ll respect you.”
“When you’re in the zone and the horse is in the zone,” Nunn said, “it’s like any other sport. It’s a feeling you really can’t describe.”
Horse jumping has its roots in fox hunting and in war time, when well-trained horses were needed in the fields.
“If they came to a ditch they had to jump it,” he said, “or they came to a fence they had to jump it.”
Today’s riders, who do it simply for the sport, often start very young.
Seven-year-old Lowenna Rian-Fairley has been a horse lover since she was one.
“She’s been my favorite pony for quite a while,” said Lowenna, as she brushed and hugged her lesson horse, Dailey.
She’d like to keep a horse in her back yard but she lives in south Minneapolis, so her mother drives her to Hamel on Saturdays.
“Oh it’s her favorite day of the week,” Theresa Rian said. “Absolutely.”
There are about six big shows in Minnesota each year, where riders and their horses can compete.
One of the biggest is at the end of summer — at the State Fair.
It’s not a sport offering big prizes or fame, but for those who do it, forming the partnership between horse and human is the only reward they need.
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