04/05/10 — Workin' it: Just who is leading whom?

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Workin' it: Just who is leading whom?

By Laura Collins
Published in News on April 5, 2010 1:46 PM

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Jana Foote, in cap, shows reporter Laura Collins the finer points of how to handle a horse at Stepping Stone Stables on Capps Bridge Road west of Goldsboro. The stable specializes in therapeutic riding programs but also offers public horseback riding lessons.

The Job: Horse caretaker

The Company: Stepping Stone Stables

The Location: Pikeville

I have a 1,000-pound limit. If you weigh 1,000 pounds more than me, I have deemed you in charge. So when Sally, a horse at Stepping Stone Stables, was reluctant to leave her stall, I was fine with it. Program Director Jana Foote was not.

"Just grab her by the head and pull her out," she said.

"Absolutely not am I doing that," was the first thing out of my mouth before I had time to think.

Luckily Ms. Foote stepped in, and with no problem at all, coaxed Sally out of the stall and into the pasture. Stepping Stones Stables is like the place you always dreamed about going when you were a little kid. Pulling up, I was greeted by several dogs, the smallest and slowest of the group was a pint-sized pug puppy named Egg Roll. In addition to the dogs, they have 14 horses, an alpaca, a miniature horse, a miniature donkey and chickens and goats, just to name a few of their animals.

And Ms. Foote, who runs the place, is likely the most energized, positive person I've ever come in contact with. She walks, talks and works at a mile-a-minute speed getting the farm ready for the day. I assisted in this process -- letting the animals out, giving them food and water -- which she told me is typically a job one person does.

The stable is most well-known for its therapeutic equine and pet programs. While I was there, two young men with autism came to ride horses. It was amazing to watch them light up at the sight of their horses. One is also tasked with filling up some of the water troughs, a job he takes very seriously.

"He's happy when he's here," Ms. Foote said. "He fills the waters, and he does a good job with it."

My job was to prep one of the horses, Daisy, with the help of Jennifer Stocks, a riding instructor at the farm. Ms. Stocks is a walking success story for the stable. When she was 2 years old, she found a gun and accidentally shot herself in the head, causing some brain damage. She started at Stepping Stone as a rider in the therapeutic riding program. Over the years she has developed into one of Foote's right-hand women, able to run the farm like it's second nature to her.

"She's just a shining example of what we do," Ms. Foote said.

What Ms. Stocks might not have taken into consideration is that the work she finds so easy is definitely not second-nature to me. I was brushing one side of Daisy, but made no plans to brush the other side because that would involve walking either in front or behind her. One end bites and the other end kicks and neither one sounded appealing to me.

"It's fine. Just make sure you touch her back as you walk behind her," Ms. Stocks said.

"Not a chance." Rather than the back technique, I used the Laura technique, which involved walking about 10 yards away from the the horse, then walking behind it, before closing the 10-yard gap on the other side of the horse.

It turned out my caution wasn't needed. Ms. Foote said they are very particular about the horses they use in their programs, making sure they are calm, well-behaved and perfectly suited for the people who take part in their programs. Ms. Stocks or instructor Rachelle Gordon typically lead the horses that are being ridden, or ride alongside the riders, who almost immediately come out of their shell when they saddle up.

The entire process is a joy to witness, even for a horse-shy reporter.