The Horse & The Rider

Chattanooga Equestrians Ride in Style

Building a bond with an animal where you can coax it to do your bidding is an impressive feat. It requires time, patience, commitment, and compassion — especially when that animal is a half-ton horse who has the power to do as it pleases. Here, we enjoy seeing some locals who have a practiced partnership with their prodigious ponies. So, spur yourself onward to enjoy some elegant equestrian eyefuls, and learn more about prominent riding styles in the Scenic City.

By Katie Faulkner

Photography by Lanewood Studio

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José is an American quarter horse gelding who stands at just over 15 hands and weighs about 1,100 pounds. He’s 20 years old and known affectionately as “Houdini,” since he can untie himself from just about anywhere.

 


Working Horses

Steve Eslinger is an experienced ranch hand who knows how to work thousands of head of cattle from horseback. He and his wife, Gail, travel to Utah twice a year to help drive over 2,000 head of cattle on a 300,000-acre ranch. “We’ve got some friends up there, and we take our horses to help them move their cows from summer to winter pasture and then vice versa at the right time each year,” Steve explains. This Utah ranch is located in what is referred to as “high desert,” with the home site located at about 10,000 feet elevation. “We have to get the horses ready for this trip each time. That higher elevation is harder on them, and so we start conditioning them with harder rides several weeks out,” Steve shares. The horses they usually take are experienced cattle horses – José and Red Man are 20 and 12 years old, respectively. “We’ll go up there for a few weeks and move the cattle into different corrals. We stop and rest each night. It’s about a 35-mile trip,” he explains.

Outside of these large-scale cattle drives that the Eslingers help with each year, Steve also works with his cousin, who owns approximately 70 head of purebred Angus beef cattle. “I go over there when it’s time to work them for vaccinations or whatever is needed. If we have a sick cow, we have to go rope them and bring them in for doctoring.”

 

“When it’s time to work, we need them to perform. So building that bond and understanding is essential to what we do.”

–Steve Eslinger

 

At their home, the Eslingers own seven horses of their own. They also keep a few head of cattle and maintain multiple pastures and barns. A typical day on the farm starts at about 5:30 a.m. “We go take care of them every morning. They get fed and watered twice a day, we keep them clean and shod, and we maintain a regular dental and vaccination schedule – all of the normal care that’s required. But we also ride our horses about three to five times a week, and when it’s time to work, we need them to perform. So building that bond and understanding is essential to what we do,”
Steve explains.

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Michael works with Mowgli, a feisty black thoroughbred who stands about 16 hands high, at Scenic City Equestrian Center.



English Competition Horses

In the world of English competition horses, there are multiple events that a rider can specialize in. Michael Pollard is an international dressage and three-day event champion. He was a riding prodigy, coming into the arena to compete at about 14 years old. He quickly found enormous success, becoming one of the youngest riders ever to be short-listed for the Pan-American Games at just 17. At the peak of his career, he won a gold medal on the three-day eventing team in the 2011 Pan-American Games. The following year, he won a national championship and was short-listed for the U.S. Olympic team.

Michael became a renowned expert in the world of English-style equitation. He served on the board of the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Olympic Committee as an athlete advisor. He has been very vocal about the importance of increasing equestrian sports at a collegiate level.

 

“It’s a challenging field – it can be disheartening, but that also means the high moments are that much sweeter.”

–Michael Pollard

 

Now Michael lives and works in the Chattanooga area, offering riding clinics a few times a month and working with his father to design and construct arenas. He knows the discipline and determination it requires to find success in the highly technical world of English riding. “One of the most important things I try to instill in young riders is correct position and mechanics,” Michael explains. “The first thing I try to figure out is how to get the rider in the correct position to be successful. Once a rider has control of themselves, then you can start working on the horse.”

He knows the passion and powerful life lessons that can come from spending time with horses too. “Horses keep you very grounded and humble, and they teach you hard work and the value of it. I was really lucky; horses took me all over the world. It’s a challenging field – it can be disheartening, but that also means the high moments are that much sweeter.”

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Marvin and Stacy work with two of their three horses: Hollace, a 4-year-old tri-colored Paint with a piercing blue eye, and Millie.O., an 18-month-old Paint Percheron cross.

Trail Riding and Lifestyle

For Marvin and Stacy Webb, horses mean quality time. Marvin grew up around horses, and though Stacy did not, she had ridden a few times and was always interested in them. Now, they share this hobby with each other and their daughters.

As Marvin shares, “For me, I can go all the way back to home videos when I’m 2 and 3 years old, and there’s Dad holding us in the saddle.” From 8 years old through high school, he and his sister each had their own quarter horse. Marvin helped train them, and at about 10, he took over the raising and training of a new baby foal. “I named her Ginger. One day, I was getting ready to break her in, and it was going to be the first time I rode her. Dad called all the old farmers who lived down the street over to watch. So I get on Ginger and ride her around the corral, and she did excellent. All the guys lined up around the fence seemed disappointed. They were hoping for a show,” Marvin laughs. “Then, as soon as they all went in the house for coffee, Ginger cut loose! It was a real rodeo for a little bit.”

 

“Even if [our kids] take a break from riding, that’s a life skill that they’ll have forever, and some good memories too, I hope.”

–Marvin Webb

 

 

Now, after having built a beautiful home with multiple pastures on Signal Mountain, Marvin and Stacy own a few horses of their own. In his career as a founder of Rock/Creek Outfitters, Marvin had a wide variety of interests in outdoor hobbies. So, Stacy used to take their daughter to riding lessons and began taking lessons of her own. Stacy quickly developed a natural talent for working with horses and now works with them regularly, breaking them in and training them. “She’s amazing. She spends hours in the ring with these young horses, and she’s really good at it,” Marvin says. “With our girls and myself riding and Stacy working with horses and riding all the time, I knew we needed to develop the pastures and horse barn first, before we moved in up here. We needed that space,” Marvin shares.

Now that he’s sold Rock/Creek, Marvin has more time for himself and hopes that will translate into an outdoor lifestyle with Stacy and their kids. “You know, even if they take a break from riding, that’s a life skill that they’ll have forever, and some good memories too, I hope.”

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Mike loves riding the trails at Scenic City Equestrian Center, especially with his family. His daughter’s horse, Mowgli, is pictured with Michael Pollard on a previous page.



Dr. Mike Czarnecki also has a passion for the lifestyle that horseback riding emphasizes. He fell in love with horses, the West, and the cowboy code early in life. Mike joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the U.S. Air Force Academy. “I was at that academy for four years, and we had an equestrian center with horses we could check out and access to nearly 50,000 acres in the mountains where we could ride,” Mike says. “That’s when I really fell in love with it. It was just so relaxing and a fun way to get away from the stress of training.”

Not only was he enamored with the freedom of riding, but he also enjoyed the culture of Western riders and the philosophy of cowboys. “You know, real cowboys adhere to the Code of the West, which promotes ideals like, ‘live each day with courage, have faith in God, when you talk less you say more,’ and it’s about honor and honesty and self-reliance. The more I thought about it, the more it lined up with the military’s Honor Code,” Mike says. He can recite the Honor Code line for line, saying, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God).” The two philosophies paralleled in a way that has always resonated with Mike. Even now in his work as a doctor, he adheres to a moral code of honesty and honor when caring for others. The connection from one lifestyle to the next is part of the appeal of horseback riding to Mike. “Working with and riding this enormous beast, with huge lungs that swell out full of air, just reminds you that we’re part of something much bigger. It keeps you grounded and connected. It’s very humbling.”

 

“Working with and riding this enormous beast just reminds you that we’re part of something much bigger. It’s very humbling.”

–Dr. Mike Czarnecki

 

He shares this passion with his daughter, Calabria, who is training to ride English style on her thoroughbred, Mowgli. Mike, Calabria, and their family enjoy taking Mowgli out on the beautiful trails of Scenic City Equestrian Center, where they keep him, and often lease other horses to enjoy. “To me, if I could, I would be out here every day. What they’ve done with this center, that’s living the dream!”

No matter what style they ride, or the purpose behind their mounted adventures, these gentlemen and their families all appreciate the power of building a bonded, trusting relationship with these elegant creatures. Their years of hard work and commitment pay off in a lifestyle that only a special few can enjoy. SG

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