MOUNT AIRY — A small sign hanging in the front office at Talbot Run Equestrian Center in Mount Airy reads, “Horses are like potato chips, you can’t just have one.”
It’s almost 2 p.m. on Wednesday and the barn is relatively quiet, with the occasional sound of horses moving about in their stalls. At the end of the hall, there is an arena where a group of seven campers are being instructed through a series of mounted games at the conclusion of the day’s events.
First, one rider must guide her horse down the length of the arena and take a cup from the top of one post and move it to the next one. Another exercise requires each rider to practice bending with his or her horse around objects and guiding the horse back to the start.
“I like how you can have a lot of horse riding lessons, but still also have a lot of time learning other things about horses and doing it with your friends, too,” Maya Bomhardt, 14, of Howard County said. “You can get a lot of experience here.”
Ann Petrasek, who owns and operates Talbot Run with her husband, said they bought the Talbot Run property 15 years ago and started the summer camp that same year. The camp runs for seven weeks and Petrasek said it has continued to grow every year.
The facility is approved Maryland Horse Discovery Center and, according to the Maryland Horse Industry Board website, each center must be a carefully selected, licensed stables that welcomes people of all ages and experience levels into their barns to learn about horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment.
The camp sessions run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday where campers learn to groom and tack their horses before participating in two sets of riding lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Daily activities vary from cross country or trail riding, bareback riding practice, and unmounted activities such as crafts or horse painting.
“My husband and I are both teachers from Montgomery County,” Petrasek said. “We decided this would be a great idea to have a business and when we retire, we’ll keep the education piece of our interests going but in a different field than what we’re doing in the school system.”
The campers close out the day’s session by taking turns performing two of the four natural gaits with their horses, trotting and cantering. The remaining gaits are the walk and gallop and are used to study a horse’s motion, physics, and style.
Anna Santacroce of Mount Airy worked to control her 16-year-old Welsh pony, Frosty, who got a bit skittish during one of the mounted games. Frosty is one of two ponies owned by Santacroce and her family and both are boarded at Talbot Run.
Santacroce has been riding since she was 5 years old and has had her ponies for about three years altogether. She is 10 now, and continues to use her lessons and the summer camp to make her a better rider.
“It helps me learn because I get practice in and I get to hear input about how I ride and how people think I should fix it,” Santacroce said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and usually I have to go through trial and error to fix it.”
Her advice to younger riders who might be afraid to pursue the sport after a bad ride, or in general?
“Honestly, I’d probably tell them to suck it up and get back on,” Santacroce said. “I don’t know how to put it nicely.”
Petrasek said horseback riding can help kids develop confidence and perseverance because the sport is not an easy one to grasp.
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“We try to help them understand, too, that it’s more than just the riding part,” Petrasek said. “You have to take care of your horse, it’s a living being and you have to form a connection with it. Horses have good days and bad days just like people do. We all learn that, we have good rides and bad rides.”