MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is an activity that is soaring in popularity in Minnesota.
The number of horses and ponies in our state is up nearly 75 percent since the 1990s.
But where is the best place to ride or stable a horse? WCCO's Kate Raddatz saddled up to bring us to Owl's Nest Farms in Independence, where horses are people, too.
In the equestrian-rich environment in western Hennepin County, seeing someone on horseback is a pretty common sight.
But it is not so common to see how Owl's Nest Farms owner Michelle Stephan teaches one of her students to become one with the horse.
In fact, to say Michelle knows a little bit about horses is akin to saying the ocean has just a little bit of water in it.
"My mom got me on a horse before I could walk, I was riding by 2 and jumping by 5," Michelle said.
Growing up in Virginia, she knew horses were going to be her passion.
"I like their personalities, friendships, devotion," she said.
But it wasn't until Michelle entered her teens that she discovered that she understood horses a little bit better than most.
"I started training the difficult horses that no one else wanted to ride," he said.
One summer, she took those talents to Minnesota to train horses as a summer job. And it was on a blind date where she met her husband, Chris.
"She called me and asked if I minded going for a ride, and immediately I thought, 'This is a test,'" Chris said.
Apparently, Chris passed
"Thanks to a lovely horse named Lighthouse, he kept me on the entire ride," Michelle said.
And the ride continues. The couple bought the farm, so to speak, in 1999.
"She made me promise to build her a place to ride in the winter," Chris said. "I had to keep her in Minnesota somehow."
And Chris made good with that promise by constructing the beautiful, fully-modern, heated barn and indoor arena.
"We designed the barn with people and horses in mind," Michelle said. "They all have windows. The people and the horses are really what make the place."
But let's not forget the amenities -- and the beauty.
"We have lots of options to ride, we've got the indoor arena, the outdoor arena about a mile-and-a-half sand trail, as well as a cross-country field with jumps," she said.
Their clients have a wide range of skill levels. Many are virtual newcomers to the horse world.
When JoAnne Lundborg walked through the doors two years ago, she had never been on a horse.
"So I thought I'll just try it once, and now it's several times a week, and sometimes just to see him," JoAnne said. "He's just a great horse."
And she's a great woman, as she was kind enough to let me take her horse Picasso for a trip around the arena.
But first, Michelle demonstrated the proper form. She also teaches the importance of keeping a calm mental state, and that everything we do can affect the horse in a positive or negative way.
"You want to put the heel down because you don't want the calf on his side," Michelle said.
And it's not long at all before you're trotting around the arena, and it's right about at this moment that you get it.
"Everything that's negative in your life just completely goes away because you're concentrating on the horse," JoAnne said.
So, it's no "one thing" that makes this place "the best," but rather a culture.
"I love the people I ride with," JoAnne said.
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