Cool Girls with Tag: horses

Amber Varner

Name: Amber Henneck Varner
Age: 45
Location: Newberg, OR
OccupationExecutive Director of Forward Stride

In bucolic Missoula, Montana, Amber Varner grew up doting on her aunt’s horses until she was gifted one of her own at age eleven. Ginger, that first horse, became her constant companion and began a stretch of horse ownership that’s gone nearly uninterrupted since then. It’s fair to say that her experience with Ginger launched her down the path to being the person she is today, in charge of Forward Stride, an organization that uses equine therapy to benefit humans and horses alike.

Amber Varner uses equine therapy to help humans and horses“I wanted to be a veterinarian until I realized they had to put animals to sleep,” Amber recalls. “I wanted to be a marine biologist until I realized I would have a hard time being at sea and owning horses. I wanted to be a pediatrician until I realized they didn’t actually have a chance to get to know the children they treated. I finally decided I wanted to be involved with therapeutic horsemanship during my final year of college. I couldn’t wait to combine my passion for horses with my passion for helping people with disabilities and I have not looked back.”

Amber Varner wows the crowd as she talks about equine therapyForward Stride began when Amber and a group of likeminded people resurrected a similar organization at its nadir. They renamed and reimagined the nonprofit, first as a volunteer group that provided riding lessons to disadvantaged children twice a week. “This passionate group set the stage for us to grow into what we are today: thirty staff members, thirty-five equines, 150 volunteers providing over 200 client service hours per week.”

Today, Forward Stride carries out its mission through seven programs that are divided into three categories: Equestrian Sports, Clinical Services, and Personal Development. By offering volunteering opportunities, equine-centered learning, equine-facilitated psychotherapy services, vocational opportunities, rehabilitation, vaulting and riding, Forward Stride approaches mind, body, and soul wellness through an interconnected series of relationships and activities.

Over time, Forward Stride has encountered many challenges, including the predictably high overhead that the majestic animals bring, moving multiple times, turnover at executive director, and general economic uncertainty.

Amber remains optimistic. “Throughout it all, we have always managed to keep seeing our clients and ensure a happy and healthy herd. Because we are an inclusive center, we encourage everyone to experience our services and also to give back. This makes for a very tight-knit, passionate community.”

Amber Varner rides a horseThere’s always something to do at Forward Stride, and when Amber isn’t working with people in the arena, you can find her training horses, attending to various projects at her desk, executing necessary administrative tasks, or meeting with coworkers and board members to keep them up to speed. In her spare time, she and her daughters enjoy riding and vaulting and spending time together at the barn.

In the future, Amber sees an expansion coming.

“I aim to ensure Forward Stride’s long-term success by growing our donor base and programming, and improving our services through staff education and innovation,” she says.

“I hope to provide my daughters with the same support I was given by my parents to follow my dreams and turn them into a stable living. Sometimes I dream of being eighty and still teaching people how to communicate and enjoy their equine partners. How many people don’t ever want to retire? I am one lucky lady.”

Amber Varner of Forward Stride works with a horseWhat advice does this equestrian expert have for young ladies as they saddle up to adulthood?

“Make your own community. Surround yourself with others who understand that we all have gifts and we all have challenges. When you are surrounded by people who all have a common goal of lifting one another up, anything is possible and you will always have a shoulder or two to lean on when you are not able to stand alone. In return, be the same support to others whenever you can. You will find more strength than you ever thought you had when you put it to use for others.”

Some excellent advice! For her work with Forward Stride and keeping horses and humans happy, healthy, and in harmony, we think Amber Varner is a very Cool Girl!

To learn more about Forward Stride, like them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram!

Maya Polson

Name: Maya Polson
Age: 28
Location: Caledon, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Owner, Rider and Trainer at Ladera Equestrian

Before the age of ten, Maya Polson was riding at summer camp. By the time she reached the second farm where she was a camper, she was smitten with equestrian life.

“I fell in love with a pony there named Kismet, and started weekly lessons on her in the fall and have never looked back. My parents were both involved in horses when they were younger, so I come by it naturally,” she explains.

As she started high school, Maya and her family investigated the possibility of owning a farm. Over time, her dream slowly turned into a reality. When she was just finishing university, she and her family started looking into private farms for their four horses.

“Our agent found our current property completely by chance, and it was a great opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up…all the pieces seemed to fall into place,” she says. “It’s bigger than what we had planned for, giving me the ability to run it as a business and go for my childhood dream.”

Now Maya works every day at her own facility, Ladera Equestrian. Specializing in training, including hunter, jumper, and equitation, Maya’s farm has also produced two foals with the hope of grooming a future champion. Ladera’s main aim is to provide a gorgeous, professional facility where horse lovers can ride, compete, teach, and be taught. That said, running a farm isn’t as effortless as a champion jumper clearing a log fence.

“Holidays and long weekends don’t mean much because, especially when you own the facility and give the regular staff the time off, the animals still need to be cared for. The same goes for bad weather days, whether it’s snow or ice, the animals still need to be attended to. I am thankful for being able to live on the property and not have to worry about dangerous driving conditions,” Maya says.

Two of Maya’s current homebred horses were her initiation into training life. Ages 7 and 4, they keep Maya on her toes and allow her the opportunity to grow beyond simply being a horseback rider.

There is an expression that every time you work with or ride a horse, you are either training or un-training them. I think that is part of what draws me to the sport, there is always more you can learn yourself or teach the horse,” she elaborates.

It’s this mindset that has allowed Maya to work towards her ultimate goal, representing Canada internationally on the show jumping team. “Shorter term goals are to develop myself and my young horses into Grand Prix caliber athletes,” she adds.

What advice does this ever-busy equine aficionado and lady farm hand have for young women?

“So often, especially in the horse world, people say they couldn’t reach their goals because they didn’t have the money or the opportunity. If you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard for it, doors will open and people will take notice,” Maya says. “When you work hard towards a goal and finally achieve it though, nothing beats that feeling of accomplishment and confidence in yourself.”

For working hard to apply her efforts to her passion and for launching Ladera Equestrian, we think Maya Polson is a very Cool Girl!

Keep up with Maya through her website, Facebook, or Instagram.