Horseback riding helps students build confidence and self-esteem, at least according to a Baraboo instructor and her student.
“I have always loved horses,” said Airianna Rich, a junior at Sauk Prairie High School. “I’m not usually a very confident person, but with horses — they don’t care.”
The 18-year-old Baraboo resident has taken lessons with Susie Weiss of Domino Stables for six years and recently earned an $860 grant from the national American Morgan Horse Association to continue pursuing instruction in dressage. She was one of four to receive a grant from the American Morgan Horse Educational Charitable Trust for 2019.
“I really want to become a trainer and — not only to horses, but also to young riders, so that I can teach them properly about all of the amazing things that I’ve been able to do,” Rich said. She rode her first horse at about 5, but didn’t pick it back up until she was 12.
Owned by Weiss and her husband, Gary Allen, Domino Stables was built in 1972 just north of Baraboo.
Under Weiss’ tutelage, Rich said she has been able to practice with the Domino Stables horses for about an hour every night during the school year and all day, every day during summer. Her family doesn’t own any of their own. Currently, she’s helping Weiss train Agates Baby Doll, a palomino Morgan mare known as Phoebe.
A program Weiss offers allows Rich to practice riding for free in exchange for help around the barn. The extra work is beneficial for students as it teaches them more about taking care of horses and all the maintenance involved, Weiss noted.
Both that program and the grant are helping Rich pursue her passion for horses. According to her mother, Penny Rich, the family is on a fixed income. Penny was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells.
Airianna will use the grant for extra dressage lessons with Weiss and hopes to perform in more shows, make connections with potential employers and get leads for schools that offer equine science, Penny said. Weiss has guided her through Morgan Youth of the Year competitions held at the 2018 Michigan All Morgan Horse Show and 2018 Buckeye Morgan Challenge Horse Show in Ohio. In the future, she wants to accompany Weiss to the Morgan Grand Nationals.
Airianna said she enjoys the spectacle of dressage and the challenge it poses by restricting how riders are allowed to communicate with their horses. Rather than talking as a rider would in other styles of riding, dressage competitors have to rely on their body language to direct the horse.
“I think it’s great,” Weiss said of Rich earning the grant. “She’s worked hard for it, she’s really dedicated to the horses and I’ve noticed a big difference from when she first came for lessons.”
Rich has grown more confident since working with horses, something Weiss said she sees with many of her students. She credits the less competitive nature of the work, as compared to school. With horses, she said, riders get out of it what they put in.
“It’s so gratifying to see the kids, you know, achieve different things,” Weiss said. “It’s not just the horses that they achieve, it just helps in their future life and gives them confidence in whatever they do.”