It doesn’t matter if you live in the heart of the city or the far reaches of suburbia—horses are a part of our town’s history and heritage. In the early part of the20th century, many people still used horses as their primary source of personal transportation. The horse-andbuggy days are long gone, but the love and fascination of horses remain strong.
There are dozens of horse and equestrian centers nearby, and according to Jay Kraus, co-owner of Kraus Farms Equestrian Center in the Fenton/Valley Park area, St. Louis still is one of the top regions in the nation for horse population. His facility is home to a herd of 150 horses, and offers boarding, riding lessons and trail rides. Kraus and his brother are the third generation of their family to run the 50-acre farm that sits next to another 5,000 acres of public land. He says for the people who come to ride for the first time or those who board horses year-round, the farm is like another world. “It’s a great family getaway for this generation. They may not have that relative who has a farm, but they could go out and be with the livestock and horses and ride. We’re close enough to the city and suburbs that we can offer that.”
While Kraus Farms attracts a wider variety of horse adventurers, others like Baskin Farm in Wildwood cater to a much more specific clientele, says owner and head trainer Susan Baginski. The facility features a large heated indoor riding ring, as well as an outdoor ring. Ninety-five percent of the horse owners Baginski works with are involved in competitive English-style riding and horse shows. “Most of the students out here are very enthusiastic, very structured and very focused,” she says. “We usually see them four to five days a week; and in the summer, we see them daily.” She adds that during competitions and training for shows, it’s not unusual to have riders spending 12 hours a day or more at the stable. “These kids have to have good stamina, they have to love what they’re doing, and like any sport, there a lot of ups and downs that go with it.”
Great Griffin Farm in Wentzville takes specialty riding to the next level with part of its focus on dressage riding, which is described as ‘horse ballet.’ Coach/trainer Mari Jebens says overall, the number of people riding is on the increase. “St. Louis has always been a horse town, but our business is up over the last couple of years, with summer camps and lessons, so I think it’s a growing sport.” She believes it continues to grow because unlike many other sports, riding can be enjoyed by anyone from 4 to 104. “Riding is a lifelong sport and there are all different aspects of it: There are walking horses and gaited horses, which are comfortable to ride even if you have a bad back.”
There even is another segment of horse-riding that is providing invaluable help to children with disabilities and even wounded soldiers. The demand for therapeutic horsemanship programs has grown, according to Kraus. “There is some sort of unique relationship that the person has with the horse—they seem to relax and submit to each other,” he says. “For the person, it not only works the muscles that are not working, but also the mind. They are able to accomplish and conquer their fears.” Organizations offering therapeutic riding in the St. Louis area include Ride on St. Louis in Kimmswick (rideonstl.org) and Therapeutic Horsemanship in Wentzville (thstl.org).