Springdale stable keeps horse tradition alive
Clay Hill gives girls a place to train that's close to home
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Kahuna was a little apprehensive about the task his four skinny brown legs had before them. The horse, also known as "Una," circled cross poles Nov. 11 during a private lesson inside Emmie Prettyman's Clay Hill Stables after knocking them down by accident with rider Ali McDowell.
"Make him listen to you," Prettyman told McDowell of Annapolis. "You're riding him, not me. I'm on the ground."
"OK. Una, trot," McDowell said with more force as the black-maned horse galloped over the cross poles.
Prettyman, 67, has trained young students and horses through obstacle courses for 46 years at the Springdale stable that sits behind fences across from Charles H. Flowers High School on Ardwick Ardmore Road. The stable is home to 35 horses and ponies, and has about 30 riding students.
Emmie Prettyman said her husband Jim Prettyman sold the land where Flowers stands to the county in 1969 and 1973, expecting they would one day move. But Emmie stayed on the property following her husband's death in 1980. Her children followed in her footsteps: son James Prettyman owns Pickwick Stables in Sykesville and daughters Lyndi Prettyman-Caruso and Trisha Prettyman-Boggs instruct riders.
Prettyman said she enjoys access to major highways such as U.S. Route 50 and I-495, which have brought riders from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
"With all the sprawl and stuff, a lot of places have closed up and moved," she said.
Prettyman said many little girls like ponies and begin riding as early as age 6. However, the more serious riders start taking on barn chores such as feeding and clipping horses and sweeping the stables to gain extra practice time.
"As they get older they make a different kind of commitment," Prettyman said.
Prettyman prepares area youth for competition through the Interscholastic Equestrian Association, where riders participate September through March in local and regional shows versus schools such as Owings Mills' Garrison Forest School to qualify for a spring national competition. Prior to that, Prettyman taught riding classes through the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission from 1974 to 2006 and coached the University of Maryland, College Park's equestrian team from 1986 to 2007.
"This is what I love," Prettyman said. "I have people who have been here with me 20 years, 18 years, 12 years taking lessons. Most all of them have a horse that's boarded here as well."
During regional and national competitions, riders enter a drawing to see which horse they will ride, which can often be a horse they've never met before, Prettyman said. Prettyman admires riders for being able to get on an unfamiliar horse and jump around a fence course. Kelly Leihy of Bowie placed fifth at the IEA National Finals this spring in Atlanta, she said.
"Riding is not the easiest sport in the world because you're factoring in an animal," Prettyman said. "You could have the best horse in the world and be having a bad day."
Kamilah Carlisle, 17, of Kettering has learned to ride since age 7, inspired by watching older sister Mya Carlisle, a student at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, ride at Clay Hill.
Carlisle said horses are special creatures with certain personalities that make you fall in love with them, and her mother, Janine Smith, agrees.
"Some horses don't like kids," Smith said. "They'll actually take a nip at the kids. As soon as an adult comes up they'll stand still. Some horses are just mischievous."
But the riders aren't there just to admire the pretty horses. Smith said horseback riding is a serious sport and should not be viewed just as a sign of elitism. Carlisle said it is not as simple as sitting on a horse. To maintain balance, heel position in the stirrups below the saddle means everything, she said.
"You're actually not supposed to sit on the horse," Carlisle said. "You're supposed to be standing the whole entire time. The heels help you push your body weight down. It just helps so much with keeping your balance."
Prettyman said she seen commitment rather than interest wane in riding over the years. She realizes students are dedicated to other clubs or sports in addition to riding but said staying with it reaps rewards.
"Most parents don't realize you can get a full scholarship to a school if you're a good rider," Prettyman said.
Smith said Prettyman is dedicated to teaching the art of horseback riding to adult and youth riders. When they're off the horse, they enjoy gifts Prettyman gives them during the winter holiday season or sip hot chocolate after a long practice in cold weather.
"You would have to admire how much she cares about her horses," Smith said. "She's just really loving of her animals. She's a loving person."