ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Belinda Engler shares her love of horses and the art of horsemanship with Marion County students through a special grant acquired through Community in Schools for the after-school program.
Engler, of Engler Horse Farm on Mulberry Hill in northeast Marion County, has been teaching horsemanship for the last six years and is happy to be part of the after-school schedule of events.
“I don’t just teach riding,” she said. “That’s why I call it horsemanship instead of riding lessons. I teach brushing, leading, bridling and all those kinds of things. Then you start bareback and move up to a saddle.”
Engler said she also taught English- and western-style riding, though she hadn’t had any requests for English-style in her current group.
“I learned the English style and was involved in jumping competition in high school,” she said. “I have a couple of English saddles and western saddles, but most people seem to prefer western.”
The after-school program has 21 students enrolled in five or six 90-minute lessons.
Because of the number of students involved, she was able to offer a discount to the after-school program.
Her regular charges are $20 per student, $18 if there are two students from the same family, and $16 for three.
She also offers a 45-minute junior horsemanship class for 3- to 5-year-olds.
“I have Welsh ponies and a Welsh cob (a mix of a welsh pony and a big horse),” she said. “I am looking for a quarter horse mare, or an appaloosa mare or something that is big to give some of the bigger people riding lessons.”
Engler groups the students partly by age and partly by riding ability.
“I don’t give any private one-on-one lessons at all,” she said. “But that isn’t to say you wouldn’t be the only one in the class.”
She likes to have five to six students in each class.
“If you have several, we can play games, and that makes it more fun. We play ‘musical horses,’ which is like musical chairs, only you are on horses.”
When the music stops, students jump off their horses using the emergency dismount and run to the center circle and put their foot in it.
“We don’t do any high competition, we do just a little bit,” she said. “We do the bottle race, where you have to pick up a bottle with sand in it, then have to ride back and return it. That involves controlling the horse as well as leaning over to pick up the bottle.”
She also offers a flag race similar to the bottle race, where the rider sticks a flag in a bucket of sand.
She also offers pole bending, where riders weave in and out through poles set in a specific pattern.
Student rides also play a game called “Ball in the Bucket.” Riders have to drop a tennis ball into an ice cream bucket without it bouncing back out.
“You can walk the horse, get off and put it in, however you want,” Engler said. “They usually try to lean over as far as they can.”
Engler said she saw self-esteem grow in children as they learned they could control the horses.
“It is a real feeling of accomplishment,” she said. “They liked the horses before as a pet, but now they feel that progress and feel really good about it.”
She said it also helped children develop skills in socializing.
“It helps them make friends with children of similar interests,” she said. “That’s one reason I try to put them in similar age groups as well. They meet friends of their own age and interests.”
Engler said students who may have been involved for only a short time often remember the class long after they’ve participated.
“Some of their families have totally disintegrated and they have had to move away,” she said. “They come back and have good feelings toward the horses and toward me.”
The after-school funding has also allowed Engler to hire several 12- and 13-year-old students to help her with the horses. She says they help clean up, train and exercise the animals.
“This is a good thing for them,” Engler said. “It is hard to find a paying job at that age.”
Besides giving classes and being involved with the after-school program, Engler is a part of the Marion Countywide 4-H Horse Project Club.
This group of about 20 youth meets twice a month and is basically a resource-sharing group. Engler said members do not have to have horses to be a part of the group.
“If you have a horse, that’s great; if you have a horse and are willing to share it, that’s even greater. But you don’t have to share. It is not a requirement to share your horse.”
Engler said half the kids that participate in the program don’t have horses, but borrow them. She said students can share other things in the program such as brushes, or one student could offer to pick up another student and give them a ride to the meeting.
“One of our major contributors to this group is the Marion County Substance Abuse Board,” Engler said. “It is a preventive kind of thing for students, giving them something interesting and active they can do.”
Besides working with the after-school program, and 4-H, Engler has also taken horses to be a part of the Oasis Program at Florence, where Engler is a teacher.