I wasn’t so sure about moving to Southern Maryland (SOMD, as the locals call it). My husband had finished an 8-year-long commitment with the Navy and had taken a job with a Washington DC based consulting firm. Naturally, we thought we would be moving to Washington DC. At the last minute, the firm called and asked if Will was interested in a position at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which is way the heck south of everything in MD. Will hadn’t officially been offered the position yet and thought it best to respond, “sure, no problem, Pax River sounds great!” The truth was that we weren’t too thrilled about moving to Pax because it is rural and over an hour away from both DC and Annapolis. I knew it would make it difficult for me to find work (I manage clinical trials). I was also disappointed because I knew that we would not be living in prime horse country. After spending 5 years with the lack of a good horsey scene in Maine, I was prepared for the glorious hunter barns of Northern Virginia. Now it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. I was so close yet so far.
Once we arrived in SOMD, I wasted no time searching for a barn. I called the local tack store, Canterlope, and asked the owner which area farms she would recommend for lessons. Right away she said A Moment in Time Farm, which the locals call AMIT (yes, sorry, lots of acronyms). I also called Woodbury Equestrian Center because it was such a gorgeous facility (see for yourself: http://sites.google.com/site/woodburyec/home). I talked to the barn manager, Julie, who also recommended that I try AMIT since I did not own a horse and AMIT had many school horses while Woodbury did not.
I decided based on the recommendations from Julie and Canterlope to go check out AMIT during an evening show. The super-friendly barn owner and head trainer spent some time talking with me about my riding goals. This was pleasantly surprising considering that I was used to my Maine trainer who would turn on students like a rabid wolf if disturbed during show coaching. I liked the AMIT attitude! Most of the kids in the show were AMIT riders and looked like they had good riding basics; another great sign. The head trainer mentioned that he had recently employed an instructor who had ridden in the Big Eq divisions under the tutelage of Frank Madden. Of course I knew right away who Frank Madden was, none other than the New Jersey-based God of the junior equitation finals. My first thought? “What is a Frank Madden student doing down here?”
Enter Holly Stello. It turned out that Holly’s story was a lot like mine. She got married. Her husband got a job on base at Pax River. She moved to SOMD with her husband. She started building her business in SOMD, which in Holly’s case, means teaching lots lessons, running AMIT summer camp and coaching students, including an IHSA college team.
I started taking lessons with Holly at AMIT on the school horses. From the first lesson I realized that she was an exceptional instructor and just the kind of coach I was looking for to improve my riding. She was tough! Our flatwork focused on honing our equitation while encouraging the horses to be supple and adjustable. This was accomplished through lengthening and shortening the stride in all three gaits and lots of bending and leg yielding. Jumping centered on using the eyes to find the correct track to the jumps and take off spots at the jumps. Holly’s motto: “Long is always wrong.” In other words, if the horse does not take off from the perfect spot, then it is safer to chip in a short stride and get closer to the jump instead of taking a flying leap from further back. Holly often tested our skills over less-than-simple courses which she would then also make us jump backwards.
Another fun aspect of AMIT was getting the opportunity to ride in group lessons again. In Maine, the riding population was sparse enough that most of my lessons were private. AMIT had enough riders and horses that most of the lessons were groups. I like group lessons because it allows a rider to learn not only from the instructor, but from watching the other riders as well.
In short, moving to SOMD was a pleasant surprise. It turned out that there was a small but vibrant riding community once I learned where to look!