- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

NEW IBERIA, La. (AP) - Designer stiletto shoes and sparkling jewelry? Lisa Patout, Debbie Springer and Karen Bullen would rather have new riding boots and stone-studded belt buckles depicting horses.

All graduates of the LSU AgCenter Master Horseman Program, the three Teche Area women share a deep passion for riding and are willing to pass on their equestrian skills and the program’s fun, gentle approach to caring and training their horses.

Patout, a late starter - she didn’t get onto a horse until she was 38 - was named 2013 Louisiana Horse Leader of the Year by the Louisiana State University AgCenter. She has helped more than 225 youths during the past year, training quiz bowl teams and horse judging teams in Iberia Parish.

There’s more to riding than sitting on and guiding a horse, said Patout, 45, of Jeanerette.

“A rider and a horse must form a bond and place trust in each other. When I am out riding, I forget about everything else. You have to be really focused when your life is in the hands of a 1,200-pound horse. There is no multi-tasking when you’re on a horse,” said Patout.

“You have to get into a partnership with your horse. It is something you have to work at.”

Patout first saddled up after her daughter Anne, 16, took an interest in horse riding nine years ago and started showing and competing through the 4-H program. Now mother and daughter load up their horses and travel to various competitions throughout the state and South.

“I had never been on a horse before my daughter decided to start riding. So I decided to be smart and take some lessons,” said Patout. “I guess my desire to ride was greater than my fear.”

Patout also serves on the Acadiana District Livestock Show Board of Directors representing the Iberia Parish Horse Program and helped create the Acadiana Junior Horsemen program for ninth-12th-grade horse exhibitors.

Debbie Springer, 56, was certified four years ago as an English rider.

“I went to watch a 4-H camp at SugArena and was amazed at the number of volunteers working with young children and the level of horsemanship. There were at least 30 children and each had a volunteer working with them. I knew I wanted to be a part of a program that would train people to be better horsemen,” she said.

Springer, of Cade, said the program founded by Clint Depew was intended to create a group of well-trained adult leaders across the state with a standardized method of teaching children the old-fashioned way with a natural, gentle approach to training and caring for a horse.

Since the program’s inception, more than 600 men and women have graduated from the program, and serve in leadership roles in horse organizations and youth programs throughout the state.

“You have to learn to communicate with a horse in their own language. Horses communicate by body language and a rider has to learn to make movements with their body and halter ropes to dominate their horse. A horse is looking for guidance and security,” said Springer.

“It is about teaching the kids gentle training techniques. It makes it all worthwhile when you see a 10-year-old girl leading a 1,200-pound horse a few steps back or young teen jumping over a 4-foot fence with her horse in competitions.”

Although Springer has no children in 4-H, she has no problem loading up a few horses and a young neighbor and driving cross country for competitive events.

Springer, who competes in eventing competitions, said the Master Horseman program is sweeping the country since it has become a standardized method of teaching and a way to create volunteers to help promote good horsemanship.

Bullen, 53, was 3 years old when she first climbed up on a horse. But even as an experienced rider, she wanted extra training. She received her master horseman certification in 2009.

“I grew up around horses. My grandfather was a horse lover and would always ride,” she said.

Although she and her daughter Caty, 18, compete in different types of event competitions, they both share a passion for horses and enjoy leisurely rides together.

“She is an English rider and I am Western, but we both enjoy riding. It is challenging when you are riding a horse, but there is a peacefulness. It’s good clean fun that can be enjoyed by the family, said Bullen.

“It is amazing to see the number of women over 40 years old that ride and enjoy it. But, I am a lot more cautious now that I am older. When you are young, you’re fearless.”

Bullen, of Cade, said her involvement with the master horseman program has been gratifying.

“The kids get so excited when they see progress and see what can be accomplished,” she said.

The three Teche Area horsewomen never get tired of sharing their knowledge acquired through the program. They readily give advice on nutrition, health, management, grooming and care of horses, as well as training techniques.

“I think sometimes we enjoy it more than the children. We volunteer long hours, but we have so much fun with the program,” said Springer. “It has been a really life-changing experience for all of us … We are helping to make the children be more responsible.”

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Information from: The Daily Iberian, http://www.iberianet.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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