PILLAGER - Horses at Rock Solid Arena near Pillager may not hear whispers, but they certainly hear everything else.
There are chickens clucking in the riding arena, a plastic tarp rustling underfoot and plastic juice jugs smacking together.
Ardis Beach tossed a group of the plastic jugs to her 17-year-old grandson, Matt Sams, as he sat in the saddle atop Solar. The 7-year-old quarter horse didn't flinch. For Beach, the horse's response is all about trust.
Around horses all her life, Beach worked with them in the past, when her family owned riding stables. Growing up in the Nimrod area, horse training was in her family tree with her father, Lawrence Smith, and two generations beyond him.
After retiring from the Wadena County Health Department after 20 years, Beach said she thought about an article she saw years ago and kept tucked away.
The article was about the Minnesota Horse Training Academy in Ogilvie. Beach said that although in her late 50s, she wanted to take the course. She graduated in 2007, built a heated eight-stall barn and arena near Pillager and named the operation Rock Solid Arena. She began training horses last year.
Ardis Beach led Cajun through the barn as a stable mate looked on. At age 60, Beach turned a lifelong passion for horses into a second career, built a stable and started a training operation near Pillager.
Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
Business was so good that she hired her grandson in order to keep up. The two have created a partnership across generations. Beach starts the essential ground work with the horses, setting the tone. Sams continues the training under saddle, along with his grandmother.
At the barn last week, the two put a couple of horses through an obstacle course in the indoor arena aimed at mimicking anything the horse may come upon during a trail ride. Most of Beach's clients own pleasure horses they want to take trail riding. The goal with the training is to make that experience as safe and enjoyable as possible for horse and rider.
To that end, the horse learns that the white plastic underfoot - which may be terrifying at first - is not going to hurt them. The quarter horse gelding Sams rode stepped across the noisy plastic without a second thought, walked over a shifting ramp, stepped up onto a wooden platform and walked over crushed pop cans and a mattress.
Solar seemed unconcerned as an agile Sams vaulted over his back and stood upright on the saddle.
"Matt finishes them out for me so I can start another from the ground," Beach said.
The goal is to desensitize the horse to as many experiences as possible, from walking beneath a tarp to meeting a four-wheeler on a trail or a bicycle.
"We gain their trust," Beach said. "The more we can expose them to, the better horse they are going to be in the end."
And then Beach works with the owners for four lessons. She typically works with the horses for a month and is often in the barn early in the morning and late at night, spending nine hours there plus handling the paperwork associated with the business. But she doesn't mind the workload.
Sams, who has been riding horses since he could walk, said he appreciates the opportunity to be active and outside.
"It's a lot of fun being able to do something I like instead of like most teens," he said.
Horses in Beach's training program can expect just about anything. And that's the idea. Once they've overcome anxiety about potential "horse eating" objects around them, their owners should find trail riding a pleasant experience.
"It makes the horse's life better, not just the owner," Beach said.
Beach's granddaughter, Kayla Sams, 15, and a friend, Maeve, round out her "staff."
Rock Solid Arena blends the talents of Matt Sams, 17, and his grandmother, Ardis Beach, 60. Beach graduated from the Minnesota Horse Training Academy in 2007.
Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
"We train them, we don't break them. That's the old way," Beach said, adding that her training method is "with gentleness and love, a whole lot of patience and repetition."
Now she hopes to stay busy for years to come and turn out horses to her standard, she said.
"I'm living my passion," Beach said. "I've never regretted it. I have no problem getting out of bed in the morning knowing I'm coming out to my animals."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.