Photo courtesy Phoenix Farm

Recently, my older daughter Trixie, age 9, made a friend who takes weekly horseback riding lessons. Trixie has been on trail rides, but has never had a proper lesson. So we decided to join her new pal at Phoenix Farm and give it a try. Unsurprisingly, she loved it, and we signed her up for regular lessons.

Phoenix Farm is tucked into 17 acres of rolling hills along NW Skyline Blvd. about 30 minutes from downtown Portland. Owner Christina Traunweiser, a fifth generation Oregonian, has spent her life on and around horses and has been operating Phoenix Farm for 37 years. She believes in a hands-on approach in which students groom the horses, learn how to independently use and care for the tack and practice groundwork. Starting with these skills helps beginners develop a partnership with the horse they ride.

Over the next few weeks, as I stood on the sidelines watching Trixie’s lessons in the indoor arena and also observing the more advanced lessons taking place in the large outdoor arena, I began to distinguish a pattern. In addition to prompts from the trainers about correct body position and technique, there are frequent encouragements to speak up about what the rider needs the horse to do. 

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I asked Phoenix Farm CEO Kati Traunweiser about this. She acknowledged that less experienced riders can sometimes feel a bit shy in the saddle, but said that, “learning to work with a 1,500-pound animal really helps kids develop strength and confidence. On the other hand, horses teach body language. They’re very expressive. So riders learn to listen with all of their senses.”

On our drive out to the farm, Trixie and I sometimes practice using the kind yet authoritative tone necessary to properly motivate a horse. And when I hear her in the saddle giving those commands, I feel proud that she’s learning to find her voice and speak up with confidence.

If you go: The current rate for a group lesson is $55 on a monthly basis. Boots and helmets, which are required, are available to use until students are ready to purchase their own. Phoenix Farm also operates six week-long summer camps (four beginner, one intermediate, and one advanced) which are limited to 10 participants and cost $420.

Nate Overmeyer
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