Words by Jane Hoffman
Photography by robin subar
Cindy Galley didn’t grow up riding horses like most of the women in the Barrington horse community. However, she did know she was drawn to the animals and that she and her husband, Patrick, chose to move their family from Chicago to Barrington Hills because of what she sensed was going to be their new passion. As most everyone in the Chicago area knows—if you are into horses, then Barrington is the place to be.
“When we were in the city and looking at places to live, I told my husband I wanted to live someplace that we could ride. Not that either my daughter or I had any experience riding, but we thought it would be a lot of fun.”
The Galleys’ daughter Olivia, who was just 5 at the time they settled in Barrington Hills, was the first to explore riding.
“Since we weren’t familiar with the horse community at the time, we asked our builders for the names of barns where we could ride. A lot of places wouldn’t take a child as young as Olivia—they were concerned she wouldn’t have the attention span. But I asked them just to give her a chance to see how she would do.”
Olivia took to riding right away and began taking lessons twice a week. She grew so dedicated to the sport that six months later, Cindy and Patrick leased her a pony of her own.
“Our trainer helped us find a pony to lease for Olivia. She is small, so we went with a short stirrup pony, and the most important thing we wanted was a pony that would keep her safe.”
She continued working with her trainer, Kristen Serwatt, at a barn in Hawthorn Woods named Forward Stride Stables and continues to flourish as a rider.
“Kristen’s horsemanship and people skills are amazing. We knew she was the right trainer for us because she was able to adapt her teaching method to our learning styles.”
Meanwhile, Cindy finally began riding lessons of her own.
“Since I was there every week with my daughter and she was settled in, we thought it was the right time for me to get started. I began by riding school horses once a week. I then progressed to riding twice a week and just loved being on a horse.”
Soon enough, Cindy had the opportunity to buy a horse of her own—a Bay Danish Warmblood, who came to the United States on a 747 airplane, complete with her own passport. The horse, who came with the name Lisan, was a green mare.
“I remember someone telling me that if I ever bought a horse to never buy a mare—and definitely not a green mare. And that is exactly what I did. But I knew, as soon as I rode her, that she was the horse for me. We took to each other right away.”
Olivia, now eight years old, rides about five days a week on a Chestnut Welsh mix named Blossom Hill and competes on the A circuit in the short stirrup division. The family, who also have a son, Blaise, 6, and daughter, Charlotte, 3, spends as many as two weekends a month attending the horse shows. The shows take a lot of coordination, for both the horse and the rider. The horse needs to arrive to the horse show venue several days before the show to get acclimated to the conditions and the rider has prep work to do to get the horse and herself ready as well. The Galleys are fortunate that their trainer handles all of the coordination of transporting the horse, getting the horse signed up for appropriate classes, and caring for the horse at a show.
“The horse shows can be a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, but I have loved watching my daughter become a competent and competitive rider.”
“It’s kind of like being a hockey mom or soccer mom, except it’s a little different in that you have this relationship between you and this animal and there is something really special about it. You do get to know the other moms and children too because it seems to be the same people competing at all of the shows.”
When not competing, the Galley’s horses are boarded at the barn in Hawthorn Woods, where the staff takes care of tacking, feeding, grooming, training, and turning out the horses on a daily basis.
While Olivia has taken to the competitions, Cindy is not quite there yet.
“I am so far behind Olivia it’s not even funny. I’d like to compete one day. I ride because it quiets the everyday noise. It’s easy to think about all of the laundry and errands you have to do during the day, but when I’m out riding, I don’t think about anything else.”
Becoming involved in the “horse world” does come at a price. There are many variables to consider. If you choose to purchase or lease your own horse or pony, boarding fees can run $600 to $1,300 per month, competition fees can be several thousand dollars a year, and so can the saddle, helmet, boots, and clothing. Then, there are medical and dental costs, horse shoes, and other incidentals to consider, including insurance, injuries, etc. Training costs can be $50-$75 per lesson. Some trainers offer lesson packages or a full service options where lessons are included in the overall cost. A less expensive option to buying or leasing your own horse is to share-board a horse, where one horse or pony is shared among several people and the training and boarding is split accordingly. In many cases, clients opt to ride school horses and only pay the fees associated with the lessons rather than investing in the purchase or lease of the animal.
Cindy is aware that there are many children and parents out there who are interested in starting riding lessons, but don’t really know where to begin.
“First off, ask around, and do really thorough research of which barns have good reputations for teaching lessons. Visit the barns during the hours of operation. Check out the trainers to understand their training style. Ask questions about how your training will be affected by a show season that you will not be participating in. Think about the safety of you and your child—and make sure you are riding a solid pony or horse. Finally, think about the cost and time implications of riding. Find a trainer who will help you understand the time and costs associated with the sport. Transparency is important.”