Horses are a lot like children according to rural Hillsboro horse enthusiast Ruthie Walker, age 21. She and her sister, Rebekah Walker, 16, a cohort in all-things-horse, agree that working with horses is the best pastime ever, with so many rewards in the form of companionship and life lessons learned.
“They need consistency. In order for them to understand what you want from them, you need to be consistent,” Ruthie Walker said. “They are just like kids in that they are curious, but they want so much to please you. They just need help in understanding what it is you want from them.”
Ruthie Walker became involved with horses when she was in fifth grade and the family moved to the area in 2001. She joined the Marion County 4-H Horse Club and learned a lot from instructor Belinda Engler of rural Marion.
Walker spent last year working as an assistant equine instructor at the Miracle Mountain Ranch in Pennsylvania, combining her love of horses and care for children. She currently works full-time as a caregiver for a severely handicapped child in Hillsboro.
“Eventually I want to be a hippotherapist,” she said. “Horses can be so helpful to handicapped or disabled children in so many ways, and I love working with both.”
The Walker girls currently care for three horses on their six-acre farm southeast of Hillsboro. Prairie Fox is an 8-year-old Morab (Morgan-Arabian cross), Galahad is a large paint pony over 17-years-old, and Beau is an approximatly 10-year-old Quarter Horse.
“I’ve always loved horses,” Ruthie Walker said. “My first horse, Blaze, we got from an auction house and he ended up being way older than we were told. But that was actually a blessing, because he was just what I needed at the time.”
Lack of funds has not kept the Walker girls from pursuing their equine interests through the years.
“I am leasing Beau right now, and hope to someday be able to work for him and buy him,” Rebekah Walker said. “I really enjoy riding, especially the trail rides.”
Both girls benefited from Engler’s help when it came to learning to ride and finding a way to buy their own horses.
“She let us work for them,” Ruthie Walker said. “I often trimmed thorn trees in the pasture or spent time grooming the other horses … a lot of different things.”
While working with horses under Engler’s care, the Walker girls both learned to know their own horses and developed their own training methods.
“There are three levels of training when you start with the groundwork on halter,” Ruthie Walker said. “First you are asking the horse to do something and you have the lead rope lifted up in the air. Then if the horse does not respond, you tell, along with a little tap of the end of rope. If that doesn’t work, then you have to demand the action.”
Walker said she was not a forceful person by nature and always tried to accomplish what she wanted the horse to do with the least amount of resistance possible.
“I wouldn’t say I am a ‘horse-whisperer’,” she said. “But I have found that if the horse understands what you want, they are so willing to try and please you.”
Walker said she really enjoyed groundwork, or leading her horse, Prairie, by halter.
“I find that groundwork is so important,” she said. “If you can’t get them to understand and cooperate on the ground, then it isn’t going to work from in the saddle either.”
Walker also spent time with Prairie when she was professionally trained, or broke to ride, by Jeannine McLain near East Lake.
“She was there for a month and I could go as often as I wanted to watch, learn, and train right along with my horse,” she said. “It was a really good way to understand what my horse was learning, and then to do those same things on my own, at home with her.”
Both Walker girls are home-school products, though each attended some public school at different points in their lives. The horses provided a form of companionship, a break from studies, and a sort-of physical education class for them, through the years.
“I’ve always really enjoyed the trail riding,” Rebekah Walker said. “I want to do more of that in the future.”
Rebekah Walker currently serves as president of the Marion County 4-H Horse club and said new members are always welcome.
“We just like to get together and do things with our horses,” she said. “Sometimes we have training lessons, sometimes we have a hot-dog roast, other times we go for a trail ride down the road.”
Ruthie Walker’s future plans include the possibility of giving beginning riding lessons to youngsters of all ages, with a special emphasis on disabled or handicapped children.
“When I spent the year in Pennsylvania, I got my CHA (certified horsemanship association) license,” she said. “I am looking into getting insurance here and hope to be set up for that in the near future.”
Walker also hopes to offer equine massage therapy, something she learned through her years of horse-riding lessons and hours spent grooming.
“I guess I love horses so much because they are always willing to learn and give so much back to you,” she said. “You can see how they advance through each learning process, they are so smart, and each one has a different personality. I just love that.”