Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 12
 
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton


RIDERS UP: “I originally planned to be a large animal veterinarian, but then I discovered that I loved to teach. And I love being with horses — this is a happy world.” Michelle Crawford (standing), owner of Double M Stables, is shown with students, Pam Brzezynski on King (left) and Laura Brzezynski on K.D.

Riding Instruction, Boarding, and Workshops Offered at Double M Stables in West Windsor

As spring approaches, everyone wants to be outside, enjoying the fresh air — in the garden, perhaps or on the golf course, or tennis court.

For many, it is also time to try out a new experience, even an adventure. Horseback riding falls into that category for a lot of people, and it is not only kids who are mounting up. Many are adults of all ages, says Michelle Crawford, owner of Double M Stables in West Windsor.

“We have students of every age — as young as 3 and up into the 70s. Some parents come to learn because they want to ride with their kids.”

In fact, the stables’ foreman and farm manager, Jill Brzezynski, who is also a pharmacist, did just that. “I have always loved horses, but had never learned to ride. I took lessons after my two daughters started riding here. Pharmacy is my profession, but riding and working with horses is my passion!”

Whatever the student’s age, teaching riding is a labor of love for Ms. Crawford. “I always loved horses,” she explains. “My mother used to say I wanted to grow up to be a horse! I rode as a girl, and had my own pony when I was very young. Later, I had a horse.”

While at college, where she took an all-equine program, Ms. Crawford found she loved teaching, and became a professional instructor at 17.

Riding Instruction

“Teaching is my life!” she exclaims. “I’ve had 20 years of experience as an instructor and working with horses. I’ve worked for other ranches and riding stables, also as a farm manager, and had my own riding business. Then, last October, I leased 23 acres from JEM Stables at 1203 Windsor Road in West Windsor to open Double M Stables.

“I have 11 horses and nine ponies, and also board other horses. In addition to riding instruction, we offer a summer camp program, and workshops in grooming and tacking, where students learn to saddle the horse, etc.”

Lessons are available for all levels of skill, from beginners to experienced. English and western styles of riding are offered, with an emphasis on equitation. “Equitation (or horsemanship, which is the western word for equitation) means the best position and posture for the rider and proper control of the horse,” explains Ms. Crawford. “I also teach posting to western riders.”

Private and group (no more than six students) lessons are available, and the first lesson is a half-hour private orientation and evaluation of the student regardless of age. Then, the student will be matched to the most appropriate horse or pony. Young children start lessons on ponies.

The disposition and temperament of the horse is very important. Both mares and geldings are available, and breeds include quarter horses, thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, and paints, among others. Ponies are Sheltands and Welsh, Haflinger, and P.O.A.

“Safety is always number one,” says Ms. Crawford. “Everyone must wear a helmet and proper clothing. Jeans are appropriate, but no shorts; ankle boots, but no sneakers. During the first lesson, the student is taught how to make an emergency dismount. Children are never left unattended — in fact, no student is left unattended. They also learn the correct way to tie a horse to the fence.”

Other Benefits

Ms. Crawford points out that in addition to the enjoyment of being with horses and learning to ride, there are other benefits.

“Students learn responsibility. Parents have told me they emphasize that their kids must do well in school in order to ride, and often, their grades go up. They also gain self-esteem and confidence when they see they are making progress. They develop friendships with people here — not just other kids, but with the adults as well. Also, a lot of the older adults like to come for the exercise. Of course, there is the connection and bonding with the horse.”

In addition to Ms. Crawford, there are two other highly qualified instructors (more in the summer with camp), who have been previously taught and trained by Ms. Crawford. Students ride in large outdoor or indoor arenas, both lighted for evening, and a wide range of instruction is available.

Equitation, jumping, barrel racing (a western activity), and light reining (a western performance class), are among the disciplines offered. Students, who are primarily from Burlington and Mercer Counties, including Princeton, who are qualified and wish to may participate in a variety of competitions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Summer Camp

Weekly summer camp, Monday through Friday, is another option at Double M Stables, from June 22 through the end of August for children six and older. Full and half days are available, with a variety of activities. Riding instruction, grooming and tacking clinics, barn management, blacksmith demonstrations, and equine dentist visits are offered. Half-days are 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; full days 8:30 to 4:30.

Regular instruction costs are $45 for a half-hour private lesson; $90 for a one-hour private lesson. Group lessons are $45 for one hour. Special packages are available at reduced costs.

Ms. Crawford is very happy to see her students progress and enjoy their riding experience. “The response has been great, and kids say the funniest things,” she notes, with a smile. “And I love the look on the little kids’ faces when they learn to trot, and how they look when they give the horses a treat. And I also love the look on the face of an adult when he or she learns to post.

“This is wonderful work,” she adds. “I look forward to continuing to teach. Teaching is my life! And I like to make everything personal here. I like to know everyone’s first name. I want this to be a place where everyone can come and be relaxed. I want to offer something not found everywhere else.

“I’m here 12 hours a day. I love it. I feel I have always been connected to horses and their soul.”

Riding instruction is offered seven days, from 8:30 am. to 9 PM., and during camp hours, from 4:30 to 9. (609) 864-3889.

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