To enter the world of Engler Farms is to entire a world a plethora of animals call home. Guests to the farm will be greeted by ducks, kittens, goats, two farm dogs, and an overly fluffy Pomeranian named Alexander. To owner Belinda Engler, the horses and ponies that call the farm home are the true treasures.
“I was one of those kids that live and breathed horses since I was born,” Engler said. “I had a wooden spring horse growing up and wore it out because it was my favorite toy.”
Engler’s riding horse is a Morab, a Morgan and Arab cross. She said she likes Morgans because of a book she read during her childhood called, “Justin Morgan Had a Horse,” by Marguerite Henry.
She said reading the books as a girl only increased her horse obsession as a child. In line with another book by Henry, Engler’s mother took Engler and her sister to an annual horse sale in July at Chincoteague Island, Va.
Before the sale, horses from the neighboring island, Assateague, are rounded up and swam across a short channel to Chincoteague where they are sorted, and younger animals are auctioned to visitors.
Engler said she and her sister raised $56 to buy a pony during the auction there by collecting newspapers to recycle.
“The auctioneer noticed that we stopped bidding at $56 and stopped the auction and said he was going to do something special and sell a colt to us for $56,” Engler said.
The sisters raised the colt, “Lucky” for the next two years and used him to compete in several local shows before selling him to a neighbor.
Engler uses her 12 horses and ponies, and even a miniature horse, to teach beginning horsemanship lessons to children. She has raised almost all of the ponies since they were born.
“Several ponies are the offspring of two ponies I owned, and I’ve raised them from babies,” she said.
She currently has around 10 students.
“I teach beginning horsemanship that includes how to work around a horse, grooming, and ground work,” she said. “It may not sound like much fun but if you can get your horse to behave for you on the ground, the more likely it will behave under saddle.”
To keep things safe, she tries to have one person on the ground for every rider for the first few lessons.
Students’ first few lessons are bareback, so students can develop a proper seat and balance. After that, they graduate to a saddle.
“It’s a special day when kids graduate to their saddle,” she said.
After learning how to sit to a walk, trot, and canter in an arena, students ride cross-country to further their skills outside the arena. Engler also takes students on trail rides around the state and to horse shows in Herington and Newton.
She has several students who work for their lessons by completing chores around the ranch.
“It helps us both out,” Engler said. “I don’t have time to get to everything that needs done, and they get a lesson.”
Engler also has given lessons to children with physical and emotional disabilities.
“I am a disability teacher,” she said. “So I’m good at breaking things into small pieces. I also try to teach a skill and then do a game to keep things fun.”
She said she enjoys working with kids with special needs. She used to participate in an at-risk riding program for Marion County students before funding for the program was cut by the state.
“It was a unique program ran through the school system,” she said. “Many at-risk kids liked horses and don’t have their own so I’d share my ponies and give them free or discounted lessons.”
Engler said it was her favorite to see the joy on the disabled students when they started gaining confidence.
“It’s fun to see them come out of their shell and learn to be assertive or see kids with little language to learn to communicate or kids who can’t concentrate learn to focus,” she said. “It’s all good stuff. They learn better motor skills and get exercise.”
She also taught lessons to students in Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Marion County 4-H clubs.
“I offer one free lesson to 4-H kids a month,” she said. “We participate in local parades, and during the winter have meetings to learn about horses. The kids also raise money to go on trail rides and go to Equafest at the Kansas Pavilions in Park City.”
She’s had several students that have gone on to show or train horses professionally. One former student, Olivia Kliewer of Hillsboro, has competed with riders at a national and international level.