Friday October 5, 2012

GUILFORD -- Several of Heidi Potter’s horses have no problem flashing a big, toothy smile.

And now Potter, a long-time horse trainer, has an even bigger reason to smile: She and her husband, Rob, are opening their New England Center for Horsemanship in Guilford.

An open house is planned from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the facility, 761 Weatherhead Hollow Road. Visitors will see what Potter believes is the right spot to further her work with "natural horsemanship."

"What they can expect when they come here is to learn how to interact with a horse in a gentle, understanding manner," Potter said. "I teach people to see things from a horse’s point of view."

Potter says she was hooked on horses while growing up in New Hampshire. She began riding at age 6 and purchased her first horse at age 13.

In 1994, she founded Maple Ridge Stable in Guilford. And she worked to expand her knowledge and training skills, studying the principles of "centered riding" and becoming a certified instructor through the Certified Horsemanship Association in 2000.

She went on to gain master-level and clinic-instructor certifications. Last month, she traveled to Colorado to conduct a clinic.

The new property, not far from Maple Ridge Stable, became available when friends moved, Potter said. She and her husband have been hard at work for a few months renovating a barn and making other improvements.

The plot’s 17 acres of mostly pasture land "allows us to have much more useful land for the horses and for the business," Potter said, adding that the open space suits her training methods.

"We have brooks and we have bridges and lots of space to work out in the natural environment," she said. "My business is really geared toward the pleasure rider and the trail rider."

The new center will be used for training, instruction and for boarding -- Potter said there are two boarding spots open.

She is focused mainly on "helping improve the relationship between people and their horses." She brings her training in martial arts and yoga to that task, writing that she "emphasizes how strongly our minds, bodies and emotions influence our horse’s behaviors and reactions."

That’s what centered riding is all about. And Potter also plans to offer regular horse-agility clinics at the facility.

"It’s a new sport," she said. "I just got into it this year."

Horse agility involves leading -- not riding -- the animal around an obstacle course. Potter is an accredited trainer with the International Horse Agility Club, and she believes the activity has potential to draw more people to the center.

"It allows people of all ages and abilities to enjoy doing something new with their horses," she said. "It also allows horses of any age or ability to participate."

Saturday’s open house includes a horse-agility clinic and competition along with food, refreshments and door prizes. More information is available by calling 802-380-3268.

Centered Riding was developed by Sally Swift, who lived in Brattleboro for more than 50 years and died at the age of 95 in 2009. In 1985, Swift wrote "Centered Riding," a book based on her method, which included using body awareness, centering, and imagery.

More information about Potter and the center is available at www.inharmonywithhorses.com.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.