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Interest rises in competitive horse riding

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OGDENSBURG — Payton M. Fortin might be small, but that doesn’t keep her from riding full-sized horses.

Payton, 7, a third-generation horseback rider, developed her love of horses with her Shetland pony, Dexter, at just 3 years old.

Now Payton rides full-sized horses. Some of them are more than 1,000 pounds, but she said she is not scared of them at all.

“I’m used to it,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. I love the horses.”

Payton is one of many riders — young and old — entering horse-riding competitions throughout St. Lawrence County this summer.

Horse farm owners say they are seeing a renaissance for horseback riding and competitions.

Peggy A. McAdam, owner of Honeydew Acres, 169 Post Road, Canton, said her farm struggles to meet a growing demand.

“There is a mind-boggling rise in interest,” Mrs. McAdam said. “We’ve been here eight years. I outgrew my first business plan in six months. My business plan cannot keep up.”

In her first year, Mrs. McAdam and her husband, Mark R. Cambridge, Honeydew Acres co-owner, owned 17 horses. There are now 70 horses under her daily care, 30 of which are boarded.

“I have a lot of college boarders,” Mrs. McAdam said. “It’s a lot cheaper, sometimes up to three times cheaper up here to board them than downstate.”

Mrs. McAdam said the rising interest seems to be a split between “the little girl who loves the idea of horses and ponies and the woman whose kids have grown and they now have the money and time to dedicate to the sport.”

But she said the sport is not exclusive to women and girls. For every five females there is at least one male rider. In the summertime, Mrs. McAdam can have up to 125 students visit the farm on weekends.

“They love the connection between the horse and the rider,” she said. “There is something magical about that relationship. It’s good for kids. It’s a good place to get away from the iPhones and iPads. I think that’s why some parents come to the farm, so their kids get exercise and feel like they are taking care of these animals.”

Jerry Dean, Payton’s trainer at Reintree Stables, 325 Old Route 11, Canton, has 33 horses on his farm and gives lessons to about 52 students a week. He said many of his riders are drawn to the sport for different reasons.

“Some love the spirit of the competition, while other just enjoy the company of the animals,” he said. “Riding develops strength — both physically and mentally. Good riding instruction helps people grow. I think they enjoy the challenge riding brings.”

Judy G. Boyer, 74, has been riding horses for most of her life. She owns and operates Raindrop Hill Farm, 1806 County Route 28, Lisbon. She also leads the Raindrop Roundup 4-H Club, a group of five riders ages 10 and younger and two 13-year-olds.

Riding is appealing to parents because it teaches children responsibility, she said.

“Parents see it as a constructive thing to do,” she said. “It teaches kids a lot of things and gives them a sense of satisfaction. These kids clean the stables, groom the horses and assist in any veterinary work. It’s not just about getting on and riding the horse.”

A big factor in the increased interest could be a change in the relationship between the horse and rider.

“We are all about understanding things from the horse’s point of view,” Mrs. Boyer said. “It’s about trying to get the horse to understand what we want. I think a lot of people were interested in the movie “The Horse Whisperer,” and that there was another way to work with horses. We are now gentler with the horse.”

As for the trend, Mrs. McAdam said, it doesn’t seem to be ebbing.

“These things tend to go in cycles, but there are a lot more horses in the county today than when I was a kid, and a lot more stables,” she said. “Trainers are also training better and learning new techniques and becoming professionals in the sport. Most parents want their children to learn the proper way — a way that benefits the rider and the horse.”

As for Payton, she said she hopes to continue riding horses for a long time.

“My horses are like my friends,” she said.

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