FORT PIERCE — Riding horses might not be a rite of passage, but Shamy Tommie wants to make sure Fort Pierce Reservation members have a chance to learn. Horseback riding lessons are given at the Chupco Youth Ranch on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. for children and adults.
“It’s important for a kid to get to know an animal,” said Tommie, the ranch director who teaches the program with ranch handler and professional horse trainer Nabor Sanchez. “It’s more than just getting on and going for a ride; you have to know what it takes to care for the horse before you even get on. Out here, kids never had that training. I’d like to be the one to train them.”
The program started about two years ago, but a new push is underway. The kids have shown enthusiasm for the animals.
“I like that I get to bond with the horses,” said Sereniti Smith, 10. “I get to explore and learn about horses, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Kids stay in the ring to get the feeling of riding on a horse, while more experienced adults ride on reservation trails. Tommie would like to see inexperienced adults come out and learn along with their children.
“If they do it together, kids will spend more time with their parents,” Tommie said.
The ranch’s stable has enough stalls for 12 horses and a pasture. The ranch owns a few horses and some Tribal members keep horses in the facility. The kids learn how to groom horses and learn about equipment, or tack, including saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits and harnesses.
“You have to get to know the horse, and let it get to know you by cleaning and grooming it,” Tommie said. “If you take care of the horse, he will take care of you. It’s important the kids know these things.”
Learning to ride boosts confidence in children. When children learn that they can handle a 1,000-pound animal, it makes them feel good about themselves.
“Being able to control a horse makes a kid say, ‘Wow,’” Tommie said, “but when they fall off, they have to get right back on or they will be afraid.”
During a recent class, Sanchez and Kathreen Martinez, community property manager, led kids around the ring. Ready to ride without the lead, Handsome Fanning proudly rode a horse by himself.
Margaret Wilcox picked up her four grandchildren from school and brought them to the ranch for lessons.
“They look forward to it,” Wilcox said. “I try to keep them busy, involved in the community and motivated. Idle time is the devil’s workshop.”