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Caring for horses part of lessons

Ryan Doty is doing his part to make sure that horse fans in Covington County treat their animals as living creatures, not simply as toys or hobbies.

“Too often, I’ve seen a kid who is like, ‘Mommy, please get me a pony,’ and then they ride it for a few months and get bored with it,” Doty said. “Then, they neglect the horse and it starts to have medical issues and other problems, and they eventually get rid of it. It breaks my heart to see that happen.”

Doty, along with Joseph Jernigan, offers horse riding and maintenance lessons at Willow Creek Stables, located near the Antioch community. Doty is originally from Franklin, Ind., while Jernigan grew up in Covington County.

“I met Joseph when we were both taking classes from the same trainer,” Doty said. “I moved here in February to help with the stables and we’ve been offering lessons since. I kind of teach the beginner course, and then once a rider gets good enough they can start taking more advanced lessons from Joseph.”

Willow Creek focuses on the English riding style, which is different from the Western style that is more prevalent in Covington County. One major difference is the saddle — an English saddle is flat and does not have the deep seat, high cantle or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle.

The English riding style is also used in equestrian competitions that include such events as dressage — showing off the horse’s appearance and movement — and show jumping. In addition, riders typically hold onto the reins with both hands; Western style riders usually hold the reins with one hand.

10-year-old Mary Beth Baker said she was “excited” to take lessons in the English style at Willow Creek Stables.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I’ve been riding since I was 5. I have a neighbor who I go riding with.”

Mary Beth’s mother, Danielle, said she was surprised to learn there was an English-style trainer located in Covington County.

“We had been going out of town to take lessons in the English style, but it was too far a drive,” she said. “It’s great to know that we have this right here in our county.”

Lessons at Willow Creek Stables vary depending on the rider’s knowledge level and experience. Some of the subjects that are covered in training sessions include safety rules, posting, basic grooming, parts of the horse and improving balance.

“We want to teach the rider every thing from the ground up,” Doty said. “That’s how I was raised, was to not just know how to ride the horse, but how to do everything associated with the horse. I want to teach riders how to clean stables, measure out feed, keep hooves in good shape — every thing they might need to know to one day have horses of their own.”

Jernigan is a professional trainer, who has been riding horses for 16 years and has competed in equestrian competitions everywhere from California to Ireland. He also teaches lessons at Willow Creek Stables, but his focus is more on the show jumping and other competitive aspects of the English style.

“English riding is such an old discipline,” he said. “It’s full of tradition and is based on skills that are centuries old. It takes a lot of training and diligence, and tremendous balance.”

Jernigan said he spends a lot of time traveling out of town to provide private lessons. He said one of his students, who has trained with him for six years, is “showing at double-A rated events and jumping heights of 3 to 4 feet.”

“We train everyone from the person who just wants to come learn how to ride to the person who is serious about competing,” Jernigan said. “My focus is that I want people to learn how to ride safely and correctly. This is my whole life and I love that I get to do it for a living. A lot of people will never get the chance to experience the joy of riding a horse, and I’m happy to give them that chance.”

Various lesson packages are available and prices vary. The stables are open for lessons Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon. For directions, more information or to request an appointment, call Willow Creek Stables at 334-222-2374 or e-mail cmryan_doty@yahoo.com.