Cheval instructor to coach USF team
By Sarah Whitman
Lauren Barth is most at home surrounded by the loves of her life, healthy happy horses.
Barth owns Cheval Equestrian Center in Lutz, where she teaches riding lessons and boards 20 horses, three of which are hers. She was recently selected as the new coach for the University of South Florida equestrian team.
Barth’s longtime student and USF team member, Megan Vaglia, recommended her for the position.
“Lauren has such a love for teaching,” Vaglia said. “I had a feeling she’d make a great coach.”
The 2010 to 2011 school year marks the USF equestrian team’s third season. The team, made up of 10 girls, will begin preparing this summer for a challenging type of competition. College team members ride a different horse at each show and do not meet the horse until it’s time to ride. To understand the horses needs and temperaments, riders are given a printout sheet listing each animal’s characteristics.
“It can be intimidating,” Vaglia said. “I know Lauren can help us a lot so we’ll be ready.”
Barth will work with the team to teach skills needed for college style riding.
“I’m going to make sure they learn to ride as many different horses as they can while at home,” she said. “Then, when they go to competitions they’ll be on their own.”
Barth believes great riders are born with a gift.
“You have to have a natural ability to get along with the horse,” she said. “Then, you need a basic foundation of skill and when you put it all together, it works.”
Barth saddled her first pony at 6-years-old. She grew up around horses in New York and by high school knew she wanted to pursue riding professionally. She found success as a junior rider but longed to own her own farm.
Looking for change and warmer weather, she moved to Florida in 2001. Three years later, she took over Cheval Equestrian Center. The former owners left the facility with few customers and a dwindling reputation. Barth went straight to work.
“Having my own farm has always been a passion,” Barth said. “Since I took over, I’ve been working to build this farm into a business from the ground up.”
Barth teaches lessons to riders ages 4 and up. She has about 20 students, from beginners to advanced competitors. Many of her students own their own horses and board them at the farm. There are also four lesson horses on site.
Parent Adrianna Johnson brings her son Sam, 5, and daughter Ella, 6, to lessons each week.
“What Lauren has done with the farm is wonderful,” Johnson said. “It’s just a wonderful place to be and Lauren is a wonderful teacher. I trust her completely. I’ve watched my son fall off a horse and just stood back because I know he is in good hands.”
Barth said a good rider has to be willing to commit. Horse ownership is an even bigger responsibility.
“Owning a horse is a full-time job,” she said. “You have to take care of them, keep them clean and exercise them regularly.”
Barth teaches her students to treat their animals with love and care.
Many of her students compete in shows. They take trips around Florida, to Atlanta and to New York. Barth, who is single and lives in Lutz, travels two to three times a month for up to four days at a time.
“Anywhere a customer wants to go to a show, I pack up and go with them,” Barth said.
Young Ella and Sam recently competed locally in the Pinellas County Hunter Association Show at the fairgrounds. Sam finished in 3rd and Ella took home 1st place.
Johnson was excited to see her children succeed.
“It amazes me to see what they can do,” Johnson said. “Sam just started doing shows and I’m already seeing a difference in him. He’s learning to ride and he’s also learning responsibility and values.”
Success and blue ribbons come with effort, Barth said.
“With horseback riding, it’s about what you put into it,” she said. “If you put in the time and build a good relationship with your horses, they will be good to you.”
Vaglia said Barth taught her to respect each horse she meets.
“It’s a type of teamwork,” Vaglia said. “Each horse is different and when you ride, you get to know them.”
For information on Cheval Equestrian Center, visit www.chevalequestriancenter.com.
Lessons are $45 an hour and open to anyone age 4 and up.
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