Stable Masters: Building an Inclusive Equestrian Community

By Molly Weeks Crumbley 

A warm breeze blew through the fields at Promise Landing Farm, sending a welcome burst of air to cool off the children who were hard at work in the vegetable garden. The inaugural group of Stable Masters were busily filling baskets with tomatoes to take to the chicken coop, and more than one juicy fruit disappeared into a participant’s mouth as they picked. They certainly earned their treats that day: grooming and exercising horses is hard work. 

The young Stable Masters are learning the ropes of horsemanship at Promise Landing Farm in Upper Marlboro, “a creative engine for inclusivity, engaging community members with and without disabilities in meaningful interactions with each other and their equine partners to foster a community where everyone is valued and included.”  

Originally specializing in therapeutic horseback riding, Promise Landing is currently halfway through the pilot program of the Stable Masters initiative, a weekly unmounted group program designed to covering the basics of horse handling, behavior, feeding, grooming, health, and barn management.  

Program Director Emily Hanna, who leads the hands-on activities and lessons each week, was inspired to create Stable Masters because of her own childhood experiences.   

“My time in the barn shaped me as a person and I wanted to offer that same experience to our participants,” Hanna explained. “Part of being an equestrian is learning and experiencing all the different aspects of caring for horses, and that teaches compassion, patience, respect and responsibility. I am hoping that this program will help our participants form a common bond and become more well-rounded people and equestrians.” 

Now two sessions into the pilot, participants have had a mix of experiences, getting to groom horses, learn about different breeds and colors, assist with feeding and nutrition, and clean stalls. They have also been given the opportunity to experience other parts of the farm, like the garden and chicken run.  

Promise Landing’s Giving Garden is a vibrant space currently bursting with summer vegetables, the majority of which are regularly donated to the Bowie Food Pantry. The mother of one participant, an 8-year-old boy with developmental delays, reports that her son’s confidence has grown immeasurably since he began coming to Promise Landing last March. “He loves riding in his weekly lessons, but I think he might like Stable Masters even more,” she said. “It really gives him a good overview of the hard work it takes to manage a barn. I can even see this becoming a potential career path for him one day—who knows?”  

Her son especially enjoyed leading a horse through the different obstacle courses that Hanna put together for the first meeting of the Stable Masters crew. He also likes to groom the animals, a process that he finds calming and, as he said while working to paint a set of feet with hoof conditioner, “it makes my horse feel so beautiful.” 

While therapeutic and adaptive horseback riding is becoming more widely available, Promise Landing’s Stable Masters program is unique in the special needs equestrian world.  

Executive Director Rachel Neff believes the barn’s “vision to fully include people with special needs in all aspects of the equestrian community will change lives and transform the industry.”  

Registration for fall adaptive and community riding, as well as Stable Masters, is now open to the public and sessions will run weekly September 14 through December 11,