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Lilyrose: Horseback Riding in the Silicon Valley

Nancy and her family are from Canada, they moved to the South Bay 8 years ago. She has a 16-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, Lilyrose. Nancy works as an administrative assistant at Blossom Hill Crafts, a pottery studio in Los Gatos and she also sells her own handmade pottery, Ferry Ceramics.

I remember seeing an Instagram post she did of her daughter riding a horse several months ago and I was intrigued because I had not seen a lot of horses in the South Bay Area. Lilyrose started horseback riding when she was 12 years old, and it was something she knew very little about, but it quickly became second nature to her. In this interview, Nancy tells us how Lilyrose discovered horseback riding, what the difference between English and Western-style riding is, what a typical lesson involves, and as we do for each activity we discussed how much time and financial commitment it requires.

When did Lilyrose start to show interest in horses?

Nancy - It was two years ago, her best friend is a Girl Scout and they did an activity at Garrod Farms in Saratoga. In Quebec, where we are from, horseback riding is not very popular, we see a little bit of English-style riding but not Western. English riding is what you can see at show jumping events, it is a formal riding style with a small saddle and reins held in both hands whereas Western riding is the style used by cowboys, with a large saddle, comfortable for long trail rides and reins are held in a single hand [you can find more about the differences between the two riding styles here]. I always thought that horseback riding was a hobby for rich people and when Lilyrose started taking an interest I realized it is not really more expensive than a lot of other sports here in the Bay Area, as long as you don’t own a horse.

What sports did she practice before starting horseback riding?

She did ballet, she liked dancing but it was too formal and strict for her. Having her hair pulled back in a bun with a leotard, it was just not her. After that, she tried pottery. She also did BMX and hockey because she wanted to do the same things as her big brother. She liked doing these activities but she was never passionate about them and she is not very competitive, so it was probably not a good fit for her. Horseback riding is great for her because she loves animals and, as I am allergic to many kinds of animals, this is a perfect way for her to be able to spend time with animals.

How was her first horseback riding lesson?

She started at Garrod Farms when she was 12, in a beginner Western-style lesson. They have 3 levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced, and they offer 1-hour riding class each week. Usually, they have the beginner class at 4 pm, the intermediate at 5 pm and advanced at 6 pm. They practice in a covered arena with lights so they can have lessons even if it’s dark or raining.

Do they need to prepare the horse or care for them after their lesson?

No, it’s really a 1-hour riding lesson. When they arrive the horse is already prepared. When they are in the advanced group, which is the last lesson of the day, they can help untack the horse by removing the bridle and saddle but that’s it.

So they don’t learn how to care for the horses?

Well, she just started a trainee program in which they train them to take care of the horses. They learn everything about horses: feeding, grooming, saddling, cleaning. To join this program you must be 13 years old and have finished 7th grade, she was on the waitlist since June and she started just before Thanksgiving. This requires more commitment than riding lessons because you need to take a shift each week, either on a weekday after school from 4 to 8 pm or on the weekend from 10:30 am to 7:30 pm. You also need to come on 3 Fridays each month, once for a lecture about horses, once for an English-style riding lesson and the last one for a Western-style riding lesson. She already knows the Western style pretty well thanks to her Monday lessons but the English style is new to her and it’s a little bit like ballet for her, too strict and formal, she is really more into Western-style riding.

What are they doing during a riding lesson? Are they riding in a circle in the arena? Do they practice jumping?

In Western style for example, to prepare for their exam, they need to learn how to ride in a pattern at different speeds to show that they know how to control the horse.

Does she always ride the same horse?

No, the riders take turns riding the horses so she knows most of them. The horses can all be ridden in both the English and Western styles.

You mentioned an exam, what is it exactly?

At the end of her trainee program, she needs to pass a written and riding exam if she wants to become an employee, have the responsibility of caring after the horses, or become an instructor herself but she would need to be 18 for that. In the meantime, she can be a counselor’s assistant trainee, which means she would assist the counselor during summer camps.

Are they doing competitions or events at Garrod Farms? Is it something Lilyrose would be interested in?

They have events twice a year where riders can compete in their category: one event at the end of the school year and another one at the beginning of fall. She got to try something that is a bit like barrel racing and she loved it. [Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which the rider and their horse have to complete a pattern around barrels the fastest they can]. Lilyrose would like to do more competitions but you usually need to have your own horse and travel outside of California. In the area I don’t think there are barrel racing events, I just know of one in Gilroy.

Do you feel like Lilyrose has found an activity she is passionate about with horseback riding?

Yes, totally. When she was doing the event with barrel racing I could see she was completely herself. And even if this is a demanding activity, because her lesson is late in the evening and in the winter months it is cold and dark, she is always happy to go and never complains.

You didn’t know anything about horses before and living in Silicon Valley it almost seems like another world, did you like what you discovered?

I really didn’t know anything about horses. I had heard of Mustangs but I didn’t know what they looked like. Being allergic to a lot of animals, I can’t go too close to horses, unfortunately.

Are you considering buying a horse for Lilyrose at some point?

Not really. We looked at the prices and owning a horse is really expensive. You have to spend about $5,000-$10,000 to buy a horse and that is not the most expensive part because then you need to pay for boarding between $400 to $900 a month, and there are also feeding, medical care, insurance and equipment costs to take into account.

Do you have any advice for parents whose kid is interested in horseback riding?

You can have a look at Garrod Farms website but they don’t have much information on it. I would advise you to come visit the farm and talk with the employees, it is the best way to learn about the lessons and easier to register in person. The lessons are quickly fully booked so you need to know when the registration starts if you want a spot. The farm is a really beautiful place, many people just come to hike in the area. You can also start by booking a trail ride on the weekend to see if you like the farm. Lessons and trail rides are usually for kids over 8 years old but they have special lessons for kids 6 and 7 years old and they have pony walks on the weekends for children over 3 years old.

Lilyrose is 14 years old. She started horseback riding 2 years ago and has now reached the advanced level in Western-style riding. She is an avid fan of the Canadian TV show Heartland.

Is horseback riding a passion for you?

Lilyrose - Yes, it was a passion from the start, I found it really easy to learn horseback riding.

What are your best memories of horseback riding?

My best memories are probably riding with my friends and participating in the events at Garrod Farms. I won 1st place in one of them.

What are your next goals regarding horseback riding?

I would like to do a camp this summer and be a counselor’s assistant trainee. When I am 18, I would like to be a camp counselor. My dream is to do barrel racing someday.

Do you see yourself continuing horseback riding after high school?

Oh yes!

Lilyrose’s horseback riding practice in details
  • Riding lessons: one 1-hour lesson per week
  • Trainee program: one 8-hour shift every Sunday + three 1-hour lecture or riding lessons per month
  • 2 optional events per year
  • Riding lessons are $300 for 4 weeks but you can pay for 8 lessons instead of 4, it is a little cheaper and they offer make-up classes with this 8-lesson package.
  • The trainee program is only $35 per month because in exchange they have to work a shift per week at the farm.
  • For the equipment you don’t need much, just a helmet and a pair of shoes with a small heel, it can be a pair of riding boots but if you want to buy something that your kid can wear every day it can be shoes like Dr Marten's boots.

Nancy’s favorites

Favorite kids stores

    We buy mainly online. My son likes to buy clothes at Tillys, they have some stores in the Bay Area. Lilyrose is more into Western clothes at the moment and we find them online.

Family favorite places to eat

Favorite places to have fun

Favorite local brands, artists, or makers

Favorite family-oriented online resources