Jack, who has lived at the Merkel family farm in Bowie for more than a decade, is old, wise and reliable and he’s also a horse.
“He’s everybody’s favorite because he’s steady, does what he’s told to do, and he’s not stubborn,” says Stephanie Merkel, who owns the brown-spotted Appaloosa as part of her business teaching riding and horsemanship.
The Merkel Farm, not far from Bowie State University, is one of several in the Bowie area that offer summer programs for young riders who are hooked on horses.
“It’s the first time, and she’s already addicted,” said Dawn Saunders of Upper Marlboro, whose daughter, Rachel, climbed aboard trusty Jack during the farm’s week-long camp that started July 4, the first of three camps this summer.
One started Monday, and the other begins this Monday, July 18. Merkel has been offering camps for about 15 years.
This year each camp, which has about 10 youths participating, costs $285 a week, according to the Merkel Farm website.
At age 7, Rachel is one of a group of young beginners who not only get a chance to ride but also learn how to handle horses, clean a stall and identify the parts of a saddle and bridle. In the process, they also learn responsibility as they learn how to take care of a horse, Merkel said.
“We’re learning about tack in a fun way,” said Merkel, who set up a relay game last week in which runners raced to retrieve sections of an English bridle.
Veteran horsewoman Merkel started riding when she about 10 on her father’s farm off Church Road in Mitchellville. About 15 years ago, after her two sons were born, she decided to start the riding and boarding business at home, which is her husband Ernest Merkel’s family farm near Bowie State University.
Temptation Farm in Bowie also boards horses and runs camps, as well as the Freestate Riding Club near Old Town Bowie.
Merkel said what sets her apart is her large indoor riding arena, therapeutic riding lessons for students with disabilities, as well as small-group and individual instruction.
Linda Corley of Bowie is another parent who is glad her daughter, Janine, 13, has gotten involved in riding because it teaches responsibility and it’s also something her siblings don’t do.
“It’s so much fun cantering, trotting and jumping, and I love competing in shows,” said Janine, who is now going into her fourth year of riding at Merkel Farm.
Also longtime riders, Rachel Debonis, 11, of Bowie and McKayla Weinhold, 13, of Crofton, are helping with younger riders this summer at Merkel.
They both love horses and like spending time in the barn and with other riders. Debonis said she has seen the movie “Secretariat” more than a dozen times, and like Janine Corley, they like to compete in shows.
Elizabeth Voight, 14, of Bowie said she has friends who don’t consider riding as a sport, but they may not know about the skill and strength it requires.
“I think it’s underappreciated,” she said. “You have to ride to understand.”