Hello Horse Camp, Goodbye Banking; Miller Puts Her Passion for Horses First

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Karen Miller leads Blue to the side after the class practiced tacking up. Photos by Ashley Froust.

By Ashley Froust

Brandi Coutee, left, directs Leah Clary atop Fancy during a beginners barrel lesson. They focussed on guiding the horses through weaving cones.

Everyone has a passion, whether it is a hobby, lifestyle or both but it is not as common for this passion to be your livelihood. Karen Miller has always had a passion for horses and riding but like many, it was a hobby because she had another job doing nothing remotely close to her passion. Miller was a branch manager a local bank and with this promotion she went from a busy schedule to one much slower. To fill her time she began giving lessons after work and on the weekends. Soon the group started growing. “It just kept growing and five years ago I took on the program full-time. I love what I’m doing. The only time I miss the bank? Christmas bonuses,” joked Miller.

Using Old River Farm, owned by Mary and Allen Kelly, Miller has grown a strong client-base of individuals passionate about horses that she has grown into developing a lesson/training business called Winsome Blues Equine Services.

Miller has not been alone in this endeavor. “I started taking on the lessons slowly with Paula Jarvis before going full-time.” Jarvis is a top 5 ranking Reserve World Champion in show with over 40 years showmanship experience. Miller and fellow trainer Brandi Coutee make up the team that trains Miller’s camps and clinics. Coutee also has her own lesson/training program called Heavely Equine. The two work together during the clinics and camps to give their clientelle the best experience. “Brandi was a student under Paula and later interned with me in 2010-11. She has more experience with barrel racing and western pleasure. I have actually learned from her lessons and have used some parts in my own.”

This year Miller started Hello Horse Camp, a big marketing opportunity according to Miller. “We had about 14 students and a couple adults who attended to improve their riding skills.” The future equestrians learned to groom, tack up their horses and ride, while being instructed on safety in all areas of handling and managing a horse. They also had pasture trail rides, games, hands-on horse activities and live demonstrations of different riding disciplines.

Old River Farm has about 20 horses on-site where Miller teaches hunter, jumper, English and western pleasure riding and barrel racing lessons with the assistance of Coutee. They provide private and group settings for the different disciplines. Miller hopes to continue growing the program by adding more disciplines in the future including halter and showmanship.

“We provide lessons for equestrians with experience as well as those with none.” At the Hello Horse Camp in June, the riders learned the basics of horse care and riding. They were taught how to measure, technical skills and techniques, weighing, cleaning stalls, grooming, food and treats, caring for the horses, tacking and saddling-up. They used the English and western saddles during the camp.

Next year they plan to have an open house and this year they will be starting a 4-H Horse Club. In the 4-H club they will have visits from a dentist and vet, be shown roping and they are considering a wide variety of further options. In the past, the farm has had a few riders compete at district and go onto state and one even competed at worlds.

There is one thing for sure, passion is working in Miller’s favor as Miller Performance Horses continues to grow.