Class offers horseback riders taste of sport

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Karen Montieth owns horses and her children are in 4-H. That means lots of friends bring their families to the Montieth home for horseback rides.

So Montieth decided to teach a Western riding course to give children and adults who weren't raised with horses the opportunity to ride. She will be leading hourlong courses throughout the day Friday and Feb. 25 at the Routt County Fairgrounds indoor arena.

Montieth and friend Steve Whiteside, who runs a dude ranch in the summer, will provide gentle "bomb proof" horses for the class. There also will be volunteers to help participants learn the basics: getting on and off, stopping and guiding horses in different directions.

"More than anything, it's about safety and just being more comfortable and aware," said Montieth, who every year sees children and families at the Routt County Fair who are nervous and afraid around horses and other large animals.

A mother and daughter are among those who have signed up for the class. Beginning riders of any age --from 8 months to 80 -- are welcome as long as they are "interested and aren't screaming when they get on," Montieth said.

Horseback riding can be a big confidence boost for children, said Montieth, noting horses often are used in therapeutic programs for children with autism and other disabilities.

"Children are a lot more comfortable with animals than humans in a lot of instances," she said.

Horseback riding also can help encourage children who may have difficulties in school or other endeavors. Montieth's 10-year-old daughter, Teah, for example, is almost blind in one eye and had a late start reading.

"She knows she's not the best reader in her class, but she knows she's the best rider," Karen Montieth said.

Before teaching basic riding skills, Montieth will spend about 20 minutes discussing how riders should act around horses. An important tip is to gently let a horse know you're nearby and never surprise a horse from behind.

"If they can't see you, they don't know you're there," Montieth said.

Horses are very intelligent and have very distinct personalities, she said. Some horses, for example, only like men, and others only tolerate women. That's why beginners shouldn't base riding on a former bad experience, she said.

"A lot of people have tried riding and hated it, but it was just the wrong horse," Montieth said.

At the same time, one of the most rewarding aspects of horseback riding is the personal connection a rider can make with the right horse.

"I think it's a connection you make with an animal and the animal makes with you, that makes an incredible partnership," she said.

The Western riding course is sponsored by the Hayden Recreation Department and costs $20. Multiple child discounts and scholarships are available.

There will be six students per class, and helmets will be provided. To register, call Montieth at 276-3088.

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