ISHPEMING - It's not just horsing around for two Negaunee-Ishpeming-NICE Community Schools community education classes that began several weeks ago.
Open to kids and adults, the introduction to horses class held at Heritage Hills Horseback Riding in Ishpeming give participants hands-on experience interacting with and caring for horses.
"There are so many things you can learn from a horse," said Joni Gleason, Heritage Hills owner and class instructor. "It's an introduction to all of that."
Five-year-old Clara Kruger of Ishpeming grooms one of the horses at Heritage Hills Horseback Riding. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Held once a week, with a class on Tuesdays and a class on Wednesdays, for five weeks, the class takes kids and adults - most of which have never interacted with horses except for the occasional pony ride at the fair - and teaches them the basics of horse care and riding. Open to all ages, the classes have attracted a number of young riders, as well as some adults.
And that begins with a lot of information about safety, Gleason said.
"Simple things like how you feed a horse a treat," she said, demonstrating holding a treat out with an open palm instead of clasped at the ends of fingers which could be nibbled by the horse.
Other safety concerns the participants learn are to behave quietly and calmly around the horses and not walking directly behind the large animals to avoid being kicked. Even proper clothing - including helmets and boots - are part of the curriculum.
"We really stress the safety," Gleason said.
Each week of the class builds on the previous week, with participants learning how to groom the horses, saddle them, how to lead them and eventually ride them.
The last week of the class has the participants going on their first trail ride.
"I like how they run," said participant Hope Hibbard, 11, a fifth-grader at the Ishpeming Middle School. "They're fast."
Although she had only ever ridden ponies at the fair, Hibbard said she signed up for the class to learn more about the animals.
"We learned how to groom them and how to lead them," she said.
For kids, learning to interact with horses teaches them more than the nuts and bolts of grooming and riding, Gleason said.
"I think it's good to expand their horizons and introduce them to all kinds of things," she said. "This is something where they get to be outside. They learn interaction with an animal and with people.
"It's done a lot for me and my kids."
Gleason, who began riding at an early age, said she also introduced her own children to riding, and it became a family activity everyone could enjoy together.
"It's something you can do your whole life," she said.
Gleason is planning a series of camps for the end of May and end of June. The first camp begins on May 24, lasting five weeks, and is designed specifically for adults who want to learn about horses. The second two camps are weeklong camps for kids to be held the last two weeks of June. For more information about the camps, visit www.heritagehillshorsebackriding. com.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.