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Learning to ride a horse is on many people’s bucket lists at some point in their lives. Some take riding lessons, others admire from outside the corral or from their TV screen. A select few love it so much they make horsemanship part of their lifestyle.
Meredith Adair Williamson has been teaching horsemanship since she was 12 years old. Now 22 and the owner of AW Horsemanship in Searcy, she has turned what was once a part-time gig into a full-time job. “I absolutely love it! It may not be my life-long career, but it’s certainly something I’ll do for the rest of my life.”
Williamson runs AW Horsemanship on her parents’ land with four horses and a dose of tenacity. Today, she has five in her herd (Spirit, Walker, Bow, Remmy and one without a name). What began as a small operation shared by word-of-mouth grew into her main source of income as the business evolved and she realized the need to treat it as a profession. Here, Williamson shares her experience as her horsemanship business took the lead and grew unexpectedly, giving her the chance to make a living teaching others the skills and behaviors associated with the care of horses, and learning to ride them.
How did AW Horsemanship begin?
I started giving lessons 10 years ago. My first opportunity was teaching a 5-year-old how to ride. From then on, students would come out here and I would simply stand in the middle of the arena and teach them how to ride my horses with my parents’ supervision. Eventually, my parents let me give lessons on my own. I continued teaching through high school and as I started college at Harding University.
It was in late college that calls started coming in every couple of weeks. “I heard you give riding lessons!” From there, it organically grew into this business. I ended up quitting my part-time medical assistant position because I could make more money to support myself and the horses while doing more fulfilling work.
What are your lessons like?
Most lessons take place here on the farm, but I really enjoy going off-site and giving riding lessons on one’s own farm with their own horse to strengthen that bond and relationship. It is such a beautiful thing to watch the pair become comfortable and trust each other.
I have two complete sets of tack so I give semi-private lessons now. We’re always adding more accessories and equipment needed for working with horses, so we’re slowly building up to small groups. Periodically, classes with children ages 8 through 11 come out to learn the basics. I show them how to groom, as well as other various demonstrations depending on the time or their questions.
A new rider’s weekly or biweekly lesson follows this pattern: grooming, tacking, riding, untacking and grooming. I have a lot of sibling pairs and those are so much fun. When siblings come out, they get to work on things together and separately.
What is the age range for your students?
I teach anyone age above 6.
Do you train for shows?
Yes. The show season starts in mid-August and I often go with my students. We’ll take two horses, Remmy and Bow this year, and I let my students show them. I haul the animals and stay during the show to provide instruction and guidance as needed and ultimately to support my students.
Where do the lessons take place?
We start here in the arena on this land. Once the student feels confident, and I feel confident in him/her, we will go out into the pasture. Horses change a lot as they move from arena to pasture; some spook easily or are much more cautious. They may even resist areas of the pasture as they are guided around. We have a nine-acre and a three-acre pasture. We’ll go to the smaller pasture and work out the kinks that come with the larger space. If we’re training for a show, then we stay in the arena working on whatever the show goal is.
What is your most popular training session?
Basic, beginner lessons for sure! People want to know about horses and how to ride them; not everyone wants to show. So, learning to take care of a horse and become a confident rider is the most requested lesson. Each of my students has ridden each horse out here; it’s important to be well-rounded because every horse is different and comes with a unique personality.
How have your Mom and Dad helped with the business?
Mom is a professor at Harding University. She and a friend of hers teach a class about equine therapy. There are a few Saturdays during the semester that the class will come here to learn different tools to use in their equine therapy sessions. Mom is also a photographer and provides the images for our Facebook page.
Dad does equipment rental and helps to negotiate deals on horses and supplies and other fun things. We didn’t set out to create a family horsemanship company, but we certainly have! It’s been a really great experience for all of us.
What is the future for AW Horsemanship?
It’s possible I’ll get another horse in the future, but honestly, our herd is big enough. I like how AW Horsemanship feels and operates right now, and I’m happy with where I am and the small size of this business. This work is exactly what I need to do for me in this season of my life and for my horses.
For more information visit: AW Horsemanship’s Facebook Page
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