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HomeCover StoryTeaching the Next Generation: The Power of Horses

Teaching the Next Generation: The Power of Horses

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Millie’s Pony Paradise Riding School owner, Debra Walker shares her story and the lessons she has learnt from looking after and working with horses.  

It feels good to love what you do. For an athlete, waking up in the pre-dawn hours to start their training isn’t always a breeze. They still roll out of bed because they love what they do. They feel excited when they enter the gym, step onto the track, or climb into the pool.

If you love what you do, you won’t always wake up with a smile (no one does every day), but you will look forward to starting your day. This is the case for Debra Walker, owner of Millie’s Pony Paradise Riding School.

“I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world. I feel so privileged that I not only get to be around these beautiful animals every day but the school give me such a sense of happiness and achievement,” explained Debra.

“It is wonderful to see every student come to be with their favourite horse, they build trust with them and form a relationship. To watch them learn, love life, smile, and become more confident in themselves and to see them release the pressures of life, all while enjoying being outdoors away from the overwhelming world of technology as well, is one of my greatest joys in life.”

Having come from a background of many years as a Licensed Real Estate Agent in Sydney, Debra’s passion was always animals, in particular, horses. So, over 8 years ago, she moved to Brisbane and decided to begin her new exciting journey in life and went to find my first horse, Millie, who was an older mare that needed rescuing after being left abandoned and very thin.

“This was where the dream started; I knew Millie was about to change everything in my life. Over the next 8 months, I would rehabilitate her to be the horse she deserved to be, with her flourishing and loving life,” explained Debra.

“During this time, I would also purchase 2 more horses, who would in turn help me start my vision of a Horse-Riding School. It is my dream for everyone to be able to spend time with these amazing animals and learn how to not only ride them but to be best friends and care for them as well.”

Discover what Debra has to say about running a successful riding school and the lessons she has learnt from looking after and working with horses. 

Tell us about your journey starting ‘Millie’s Pony Paradise Riding School’.

It all started with a few children coming over to spend time with these horses and learning so many things including learning to ride – they just loved it.  Within a few weeks that followed, Millie had fallen asleep staring up at the stars to go into heaven, so now in her honour, we decided to name the Riding School would after her and lessons began.

Since we started over 6 years ago now, the number of students has dramatically increased along with the number of horses. Furthermore, I have become an NDIS Provider. I encourage all children and adults with disabilities to get involved to build their knowledge, build friendships with the horses (and people) as well as help them to gain confidence in themselves with our achievement programs. It is amazing what horses can do for people, from healing to improving and much more. The horses are also the teachers, they teach what we cannot, which is all from the inside. 

Our clients are open-minded learners who want to connect with something outside of themselves. Their attitude is progressive and they are flexible in their thinking. The client knows or at least suspects, that the skills they learn and use relating to horses are transferable to relating to people. By increasing their awareness of how horses behave the client increases their awareness of their behaviour and the behaviour of others. The client’s attitude is “I am open to receiving new information and to exploring the possibilities that result”.

When did you open in Allenview & what drew you to the area?

The business was started in Greenbank on an acreage property, once obtaining more suitable horses to participate in the school, I was looking to move to a larger property to be able to provide the horses with more grazing areas and to be able to provide more services to our clients.

About 6 months ago, I found the perfect property – our 80-acre property here at 77 Saville Rd, Allenview. It was even close to our previous location.

Upon first coming into the Allenview area, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and open spaces of land, horses and cattle, along with the wonderfully friendly and welcoming residents.  The wildlife here is stunning, including a large variety of birds and other wildlife, which brings such a feeling of relaxation and tranquillity. Here all the horses have room to run and have free time to enjoy being a horse. Plus there are plenty of grazing areas and room to grow and develop more services for everyone’s needs.

Describe a day in the life at Millie’s Pony Paradise Riding School.

Here at Millie’s Pony Paradise, every day is a big day. It starts with feeding everyone early in the mornings, and coating or uncoating every horse before the general maintenance begins. This includes checking over each horse to ensure they have no injuries or cuts, cleaning all buckets and water troughs, preparing evening meals, and organising bookings and new client enquires. In addition to keeping track of each horse’s hoof care, supplements, vitamins and health charts along with ground maintenance to keep all areas clean and tidy with no hazardous or toxic materials.

By later in the afternoon, all animals are given another bucket of feed, all prepared for their individual needs. If needed, all coats are placed back on every horse before tidying up can start on the grounds again to be ready for a fresh new morning, where I start these processes again. Most of the horses also enjoy individual ongoing training and additional grooming where required.

What services do you provide?

The aim is to provide individual lessons and programs to suit each person and their needs. Currently, our services include:

  • Personalised One on One Hourly Riding Lessons,
  • One Hour or Half Hour Lessons,
  • Small Group Lessons, Ground Work Lessons,
  • Pony Rides (for the little ones),
  • Handling, Horse Care & Grooming Lessons,
  • Kids “Horsey Funday Programs”,
  • Pony Parties,
  • “Be a Stablehand” Clinics,
  • Trail Rides on a 40-acre area, and
  • School Holiday “Horsey Fun Program’s

We also have a 2 Hour “Sunday Fun Day” where like most of these programs, the participants not only can learn how to ride but will also learn how to greet, groom, lead, catch and saddle up their horse properly. 

In addition, we currently offer a Sponsor a Horse program which is available to anyone who wants to give our amazing horses some extra special one-on-one attention. This includes being able to come and brush your special friend, wash them and have little rides on them.  It’s like having a horse that you can’t have…

All of these programs can be designed to the riders’ needs and preferences. The most suitable horses are hand-picked for every rider. The amazing staff are friendly, knowledgeable and eager to assist you.

What challenges have you come across & how have you overcome them?

A common challenge we normally see is the fear that a lot of adults have when it comes to hopping on the back of a horse and start learning to ride. With adults being of course more conservative, they tend to have a little voice in their head saying “but what if …?”. This is mostly overcome with some time on the ground getting more comfortable around the horses first. Over time we have found that spending time grooming, leading and enjoying the horse first, really helps each person to move at their own pace to become more confident and comfortable with horses.

The biggest challenge, I would say is working with the changing moods of some children and teenagers in conjunction with the changing moods of some of the horses. Trying to marry these two up can at times be a bit tricky. We find that being able to use a variety of different horses enables us to mix and match to support the rider the best. As any horse owner will know, mares can be just as cranky and moody as any teenager at times…

What has been your most interesting experience since opening the riding school?

I would say that having seen firsthand how horses respond to adults and children with disabilities, in particular, is truly amazing. They seem to fully understand the certain needs of the person and adapt to be so gentle and kind. They appear to even relax to accommodate the individual.

I have had a particular student that spend over a year being on the ground just brushing and learning to walk the horse around who then decided to get on the horse for the first time.  His reaction was priceless, although being nonverbal the normally energetic boy became calm, relaxed and somewhat confident once riding the horse. His confidence has continued to improve with his riding which has continued ever since.

How many students and horses do you have?

Here on-site at Millie’s, I currently own 24 horses along with my amazing Donkey, who is the friendliest fella.  He loves to let children ride him and just loves attention and huge hugs.

In this group of horses, there are different breeds, shapes and sizes.  From Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses, Stock, Paints, Palominos, Appaloosa and even 2 little Miniature Ponies.  Everyone is an individual with their own personality, abilities and needs.  I am so very lucky to have every one of them.

With lessons and activities available every day of the week (except Mondays, which is the horses’ day off), student numbers have continued to increase, along with more students with disabilities, now being an NDIS provider. To date, approximately 40+ students are attending every week, which is fantastic.

Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years?

My vision for the school is continuously growing. Over the next 5 years, I will introduce more specialised programs to focus on the individual needs of new and existing clients as well as encourage young riders to take part in competitions. This will open up opportunities for young workers to join our team. Also, I would love to increase the amount of equipment, learning tools and facilities as well as fully cover my riding arena with new sand and hopefully one day an undercover arena for everyone to enjoy.

Additionally, I want to grow my client base to be able to let more people enjoy the opportunity to be able to be around horses. As they say… “If you think you can do more, then you are already halfway there”.

What’s a little known fact about you?

When I was very little, a horse thought my neck was an apple and took a rather large bite from it! Which funnily enough, was the day I fell in love with horses. This may have been the very beginning of my journey after all.

For more information about Millies Pony Paradise Riding School, their lessons and events, visit their website, www.milliesponyparadise.com or check out their Facebook page, @ Millie’s Pony Paradise.

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Emily Stack
Emily Stack
Editorial Team
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