“Chin up. Heels down,” Michelle Hargreaves called out to young riders at her equestrian center in Pfafftown on Monday afternoon.
It was an afternoon routine that the owner of Hidden K Stables knows well, but one made sweeter by the sunny skies and a recent surprise.
Last week the Positive Coaching Alliance named Hargreaves one of 25 winners of the national Double-Goal Coach Award, presented by MaxPreps. The award recognizes coaches who “pursue the goal of winning and the even more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.”
Hargreaves said the award was a total surprise.
“It was just so nice to be nominated for something like this,” Hargreaves said.
Athletes, parents and administrators from across the nation nominated more than 1,700 coaches for the Alliance’s award. Dawn Longman, Hargreaves’ assistant center administrator and parent of a young rider, coordinated the effort to nominate Hargreaves for the award based on her work coaching a U.S. Pony Club.
“She to me really illustrates what they were going for,” Longman said. “It’s not about coaching everybody to win, win, win. She is balancing that out with life skills that the kids are going to need.”
Praise for coach
Longman asked students and parents to send the Positive Coaching Alliance testimonials about Hargreaves.
Allison Johnson, a sophomore at Reagan High School and a Pony Club member, was eager to take part. Hargreaves has been her instructor for the past two years.
Johnson said Hargreaves tailors her teaching style to each student’s needs.
“She can just pinpoint what you’re doing wrong and tell you how to fix it,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said Hargreaves has helped her gain the courage to try new things. Johnson had scoliosis surgery when she was 11, and she was initially tentative around horses.
“She would keep everything safe for me, but she would also teach me to get over those fears,” Johnson said.
Longman said her daughter, Iselle, 9, has also benefited from Hargreaves’ coaching. She said riders learn how to care for the horses, because Hargreaves is big on teaching responsibility.
“Even the youngest girls out there, they come out, they have to groom their horses, they have to take care of them. … Of course they’re always under a watchful eye of an instructor, but they’re responsible for cleaning up after themselves, responsible for cleaning their own tack,” Hargreaves said.
Pursuing a passion
Hargreaves has been riding horses since she was about 6 years old. She remembers begging her parents for a horse, and her wish was finally granted in middle school.
“I wasn’t a person who was born into it, but I just enjoyed it enough to go for whatever I could with it,” Hargreaves said.
She graduated from N.C. State University before traveling to England to further her education in equine management. There she received her British Horse Society qualifications and lectured at colleges.
Hargreaves moved back to the area and opened her own stable about six years ago.
“It was always a lifelong dream to open up my own facility,” Hargreaves said.
Anywhere from 200 to 300 people visit the stable each week. Hargreaves said it is mostly a dressage, eventing and hunter/jumper barn.
The facility offers horse boarding, riding lessons for adults and kids, summer camps and the Pony Club program. Hargreaves coaches equestrian teams at Wake Forest University and Salem College. She is also the executive director of Hidden K Stables Rescue and Rehabilitation, a separate nonprofit group that trains and finds homes for horses.
Accredited Pony Club
While there are several U.S. Pony Clubs in the state, Hidden K Stables is the only accredited Pony Club Riding Center in the Carolinas. The center makes Pony Club accessible to students who may not have their own horses by allowing them to train with facility horses and horses boarding at the barn.
“I experienced the Pony Club and everything like that when I was over in England and enjoyed the fact that the girls learned about horse management and not just riding,” Hargreaves said.
U.S. Pony Clubs – an offshoot of the British Pony Club – was founded in 1954 to teach young people proper horse care and the English style of riding. Most of the Pony Club members at Hidden K Stables range from ages 7 to 16.
Pony Club members demonstrate standards of proficiency through certification tests and competitions.
“They have to learn how to work together as a team, because they go to events and competitions where it’s a team score. They have to learn to prepare themselves and pack everything that a horse would need and be able to care for the horse,” Hargreaves said.
The experience also teaches young riders to adjust when things don’t go according to plan, Hargreaves said.
“To watch them succeed and to watch people who have never even sat on a horse go up and go to something like a Pony Club championship or different things like that, it is very fulfilling,” Hargreaves said.
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