Ridgefield equestrian school inspires children and adults

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Cantera Equestrian School in Ridgefield has taught students of all ages about the benefits of horse riding since 2013.

Co-owner Julie Kennedy started the school after working for the cable provider Windstream due to her love for horses.

“It was always a lifelong dream for me to have a horse farm one day,” said Kennedy. “I had kids on the younger side and fell into corporate America in whatever jobs I needed to do, and it felt like the dream was never going to happen.”

Kennedy said her daughter started to take riding lessons and got along well with her riding instructor. Later, a property became available so Kennedy decided to bring her dream to fruition with the help of Kelly Kidd and Ann Boucher.

“Eight years later, we’re still going strong,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said horses are beneficial to people because “life lessons are learned at the barn, whether that’s from perseverance or thinking something is too challenging to do, but then you’re able to actually do it.”

She said it’s empowering to work with a horse and ride them successfully, since they can weigh up to 1,200 pounds.

A kid who has trouble speaking up for themselves in school or an adult who has the same problem at work could benefit from horse training because of the leadership skills people learn, Kennedy said. Quick thinking and decision making is also something that comes from working with horses, she said.

Kennedy emphasized that middle school can be challenging for adolescents, so the school aims to be their safe space.

“If they’ve had a tough day, they’re here in their happy place and everything feels better again,” she said.

Aside from teaching students, Cantera also allows clients to bring their own horses so the animals themselves can be trained.

Kennedy is also a member of 4-H. She trained in the horse program for nine years as she learned to hone her riding and horsemanship skills. Starting in the club as a child, she also learned how to be part of a team and mentor younger members as she got older.

An exceptional horse at the farm is Jazzy, who has been around since the beginning of the school. Kennedy said the horse is patient and stands calmly as children clean the animal, pick her hoofs and saddle her. During summer camp, the horse allows the kids to paint her hair or tie ribbons to her tail. Jazzy, who is in her 20s, is used for teaching kids to walk, trot, and cantor. “She’s just been an absolute rock star of our program,” said Kennedy.

Then there’s the horse named Henry, who Kennedy calls a “really stellar horse” and “the coolest gentle giant.” The horse is half Percheron, half Tennessee Walker and is 19 years old. The animal works with kids who are learning to trot and adults who are learning to jump over cavalettis. The horse used to be an eventer, which involves dressage, cross country and show jumping. Kennedy said he’s a favorite among many students because of his versatility and flexibility across multiple programs. He also gives more timid riders confidence, she said.

At the start of the pandemic, the team was in fear the farm would close because they had to shut down lessons, but they had a number of students who continued to pay their monthly riding tuition bill. That helped keep the school afloat despite being temporarily closed. Once they were allowed to open again, Cantera hosted make-up lessons which got the students back on track.

“It’s truly a testament to our absolutely wonderful clients we have that we were able to make it through,” Kennedy said.

To schedule lessons, Cantera can be reached at 360-607-0493 or through their website at can teraequestrian.com/contact-us. The stables are located at 1613 NE 259th St. in Ridgefield. The school is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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