A passion for horsing around

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

WILSONVILLE &045;&045; After 12 months away from home at Auburn University, Christie Saunders realized where she belonged, and it wasn&8217;t in the classroom.

It was back in the saddle on the family horse farm.

&8220;I tried school for a year,&8221; Saunders said. &8220;I didn&8217;t enjoy that.&8221;

Instead, she went to work for an International Grand Prix (horse) trainer in North Carolina. It turned out to be a career move that gave her the confidence to go back home and do it on her own.

Saunders, 23, has operated Shelby Oaks Farms in Wilsonville for the last three years with her family, breeding and training horses and giving riding lessons.

&8220;What I really enjoy is taking a horse that somebody has a problem with and giving my opinion on it,&8221; Saunders said.

She said a friend&8217;s introduction to horses as a child spurred a life-long love of the animal. She went on to compete in equestrian events, winning several awards in the Alabama Hunter Jumper Association competitions.

By age 14, Saunders owned her first horse, a recently retired 8-year-old thoroughbred, which she trained and won more awards on.

Soon after, word of mouth spread and people began to bring &8220;problem&8221; horses to her to train.

She said the problems are often riding technicalities such as the horse&8217;s cantering off the wrong leg, which can cause problems with the horse and rider&8217;s balance. Saunders said she also sees, in the case of many ex-race- horses, the animal was not handled with a lot of attention making it difficult at first for casual riding.

Saunders said she&8217;s able to split her time at Shelby Oaks between giving riding lessons to students and breaking wild or racetrack horses for recreational riding, and sometimes both at the same time.

She said her favorite part is dealing with the horses and passing on what she&8217;s learned.

&8220;I enjoy it when I&8217;m able to see what I&8217;ve learned in the past and my riding style carry on to another student,&8221; she said.

Saunder&8217;s mother Cynthia Saunders said she and her husband have always encouraged their daughter in her love of horses. &8220;We&8217;ve always wanted her to follow her dreams,&8221; she said.

Saunders will hold a five-day camp on Shelby Oaks Farm to teach riding and horse maintenance, beginning July 23.

For information call 669-5228.