Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
His Vision in our Hearts, Our Family Carries on the Dream
by Amanda Cole Kohnen
He had a vision. Of rolling land, tended fields, barns full of livestock, and family growing up and growing together. He created a farm, redesigning barns, laying out fence lines, and building arenas. He dared his children (city kids at the ages of 20 and 18) to take chances, step out of comfort zones, and see what else may be out there. He believed in the farm and the family, and helped us find direction. And then he was gone, leaving us behind to look after his creation and dreams. We were handed this amazing gift of land and barns, and incredible horses, and the belief in ourselves that we could continue, persevere, and become more.
I still remember carrying his red wing boots out from the hospital on the day he died. The leader of our family, the foundation and the cornerstone of who the Cole family was. All I could think about was him propped up against the white plank fence, with the sun setting behind him, looking out over his herd of Mountain Horses, and his forty acres that lay on the south side of I-65, and his wife and children that had the strength to follow him in this direction. He left us with South Forty Farms.
Jason and I decided that we believed in the farm and family, and we needed to be with Mom (Diane), a unified three to take over where he left off. Instead of letting grief overwhelm us, and fear of the future shut our hearts and minds, we stood together, worked together, sweat together, and just kept on going.
We had some very successful show horses that helped teach us what to do, and we interacted and worked with amazing horse trainers and owners that were open and free with advice, guidance, and time. We were able to step onto other farms and be treated with gracious respect, and in that, find horses that would help follow the path our farm was creating, fit the future that we felt was laid out for us.
I literally stumbled upon my career as a riding instructor. A friends daughter asked if I could help teach her to ride (which I actually laughed at first - I wasn’t blessed genetically with a lot of patience). The day I said yes, and helped that 3 1/2 year old onto a horse changed my world. I have been working exclusively with children ages 3 1/2-18 since 2003 as my full time profession.
Jason tried to follow in the direction that was laid out for him in college, by pursuing careers in banking, and then insurance, and always struggled to find the confidence and peace in the decision his career was in. He married his true soul mate, Lacey (yes, soul mates .they love Disney and history to a level none of the rest of us will ever truly appreciate) and he built a home on the farm at the same time I chose to, and soon had his first daughter, Avery. When Avery was around the age of 4, he finally talked with Diane, laid out his honest passion for the farm, and that he would like to try to make a career at South Forty for himself, and he quit his public job and began teaching lessons for youth and adults at the farm.
Both Jason and I teach based on the principles we learned. If you want to ride, you learn to do it all .yourself. In lessons, we work not only in the saddle, but with catching horses (and sometimes that’s a true adventure!), tacking up and putting on the bridle, selecting the right tack and equipment for each individual rider, and then grooming them down, bathing them, getting them properly taken care of (slightly spoiled) to be turned back out comfortably. We work with bareback riding, western, saddleseat, obstacle work, balance and reflex games, and even ground work with young horses. We have a few riders in the ring currently that have trained their own horses from baby to adult! We approach teaching in a casual, "user-friendly" manner, where we understand that horses and humans mess up, have bad days, have amazing days, get hot, get tired and cranky, are buzzed on sugar cubes/caffeine, are freezing in the winter, or just plain terrified to learn the next big thing. We laugh at ourselves, and encourage others to do so as well .the mountain horses have provided our students the amazing blessing of patience, curiosity, and endurance. The horses love what we do, and wait at the gates if they’ve had too many days off!
Avery Cole, Jason’s oldest daughter, has become the whirlwind of South Forty. Since her parents worked day jobs, Diane and I would sneak Avery to the barn, as young as 2 months old, and have her riding in front of me, on our two year old stallion, Circle of Life (needless to say, her parents didn’t learn of any of her riding accomplishments until at least two weeks after she’d done it!). She rode all the time .either gently rocking into sleep, or giggling and making kissing noises to try to go fast. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments in life to see her mature into an incredible rider. The week of her second birthday, Avery rode Doctor Yankee, all by herself on the rail, with no one close by (I was far enough to take photos of full body shots of horse and rider). For her third birthday, she wanted to go get her own horse from the field to ride. For her fourth, she was riding at nights at the International shows, in the arena when the show was over for the night, and showing in the first solo classes. The year she turned five, she won the KMSHA International Grand Champion Trail Pleasure 11 and under, and Reserve Country Trail Grand Champion 11 and under. She’s six now, and showing western pleasure and trail obstacle. And she "earns her keep". We have a foldable wagon that we take to shows so she can help haul her equipment to the barns, she likes to hose down her horses (and those humans possibly standing nearby) after workouts, and she loves to be the first one to warm her horses up! She can tack up her horse, bridle most of them, and with the right stool or fence close by, climb on up. She entertains DQP’s, ringmasters, and judges alike with her stamina and determination.
Jason’s youngest daughter, Avenley, is owning up to being the complete opposite of Avery. She likes to ride for fun, loves to wear helmets anytime she’s in the barn, and will go through emotional overload when you try to take her off a horse, or remove the helmet. She doesn’t care about showing .she doesn’t even really notice it, she just wants to GO on the horse, with her fabulous helmet.
I married Nick in a way that truly captures my lifestyle .scheduled around show season! We’ve been married since 2006, and became foster parents in October of 2010. We actually got the approval phone call on the way to the KMSHA International show! We’ve had many infants through our home (and we are truly beyond the thrill of baby drool and diapers), and are blessed with the opportunity to adopt our little girl, 20 month old Amelia (aka "Bink"), on 8/3/2012. She’s been traveling to most horse shows with me, rolling along in her car seat or jogging stroller, and rides as much as I can get her on. Her brother, known as "Dude", will be making his horse show debuts in 2012 as well, but at 10 months old, he’s more interested in playing with the horses hair than entertaining the audience!
Between Diane, Jason, and I, we all have our roles on the farm. Jason, as said before, teaches adults and youth, and is in charge of all green machines (John Deere tractors, bush hogs, spreaders, etc). He keeps the fields as tip top as they can be in spite of drought seasons and then pouring rain. He is certainly in charge of Bud Light, his champion Trail gelding, and has taken over the reins of training and handling Circle of Life, our versatility horse. He works with other horses, and with Avery’s excitement, has stepped back into the role of working with younger horses, which has been one of his true gifts all along.
Diane is the organizational pro. Without her, we all are creatures of self-doubt. Diane manages all the diet and nutrition of the horses on the farm, as well as keeps up with what show clothes need to be repaired or designed and made (yes, she’s making some of our show clothes and is AMAZING with the horse costume class!), record keeping on registration and vet work. She’s also the mediator between Jason and I, as we are true siblings, and sometimes let our nerves get the best of conversations and communication at horse shows! And finally, she’s the best co-pilot in the world. If we get lost (and yep .it happens often), she’s always ready to work her truck GPS, and if that doesn’t work, find my GPS system, then she resorts to the Atlas, and when all else fails, we head to the nearest Wal-Mart or McDonalds and ask for help!
I hesitate to say that I’m the "attitude" of the farm, but believe it’s the closest description. When horses decide to push our buttons, I’m the one that pushes back. When a rider decides to doubt and panic, I’m the one that lectures them back until they’ve forgotten what was wrong and just want to get in the ring. I’m the ring side coach, and love to figure out the dynamic of each individual horse, how they match with different riders, and how to present them best in front of different judges. I also am the "hauler". When all else fails and Diane and Avery want to show, I’ll drive them wherever they need to go, so long as I get to take my horse Playboy, and show western pleasure, my favorite class. Jason hauls as well, and does a good job at it, but with my passion for audio books on my I Pod, I can usually go for hours without getting sleepy.
We travel and show as a family, and when at shows, our family isn’t complete without our "adopted Aunt Milsie", novice rider, Amelia Watkins. Amelia grew up in lessons with me at South Forty, and when it came time to choose a college and direction for the next step in life, she was blessed with scholarship opportunities, amazing grades, and many options. Amelia may never know how deeply we appreciate her as a part of the family, and when she confessed that she’d like to stay local at Western Kentucky University, so she could come out and continue to play with our horses, we couldn’t deny the connection as family anymore. Amelia and I have ridden side by side for many years, trying to master the other’s riding personality and seat, so that we can share horses at the shows, and help encourage each other in the right way. I like to joke that Amelia is the "skinny me", but can’t deny that she’s become her own, individual, amazing horse woman that we are blessed to have around. Upon adoption of my baby girl, Bink on August 3rd, 2012, she will take the name of Amelia, in honor of Milsie .she just means that much to us.
We have other youth that travel and show with us, and we hope you get to meet them all. The youth that travel and show own and handle their own horses, and when they’re in the ring or warming up, I am very proud of who they are, and how much they’ve taught their individual horses. Each tale is different and amazing in their own ways, and continue to write the story of their lives together with each new adventure. And I feel blessed to know that they have grown and learned with us, so much, that they appreciate that when we travel for shows, we never show for the ribbon or title .we show to demonstrate our love and passion for what we do each day, and the incredible love the horses show us back, by faithfully carrying us with pride and beauty.