Riding high

Sunday, February 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:34 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Every morning, Kim Krieckhaus pushes a wheelbarrow out of her garage. She stops, sets down seven buckets and carefully fills them with different mixes and different amounts of grain. Pulling her ear-warmer down over her ears against the bitter cold, she loads up the buckets and wheels through the sand arena and up to the outdoor paddocks.

Hungry horses whinny to greet her, the seven heads swinging from side to side as they follow her movements and wait for their morning feed. With a gentle hand, she strokes them good morning, delivers the food and leaves.

But half a minute later, she’s back to attack the soiled paddock — pushing the wheelbarrow, now filled with shovels and rakes.

“Sometimes I’m tempted to put diapers on them all,” Krieckhaus says with a laugh as she tries to shovel up the frozen manure. It’s not easy considering the strong, biting wind and the temperature that refuses to climb above 20 degrees.

Still, Krieckhaus never falters as she trades one tool for the next to break up the manure or old hay. She chatters cheerfully to the horses as they come over to check out what she’s doing. Her quick eye appraises their health, and she pauses occasionally to make sure a foot isn’t sore or that her pregnant mare gets enough to eat.

Krieckhaus moved to Columbia in 2000 with her husband, Jonathan “Vanya” Krieckhaus, who teaches political science at MU. They bought a house with just over 26 acres outside of Riggs, a town north of Columbia. Since then, Krieckhaus has worked to build her business of teaching horseback riding. She teaches and rides dressage, a form of advanced training, and jumping, but she puts the emphasis on fun.

“I don’t bill myself as a show coach, because there’s a lot of overly competitive people,” Krieckhaus says. “A lot of people go to competitions focusing solely on the ribbons — it’s all about the competition, it’s all about winning the ribbons.

“My goal as an instructor is to foster fun and developing the relationship with the horse,” she says. “To me, the competition is a way of affirming that the training you are doing is in the right direction. It’s not to see who you beat.”

Krieckhaus, 37, is an experienced rider.

“I like the technicalities of dressage and the precision, but jumping sure is exhilarating,” she says, adding, “I really enjoy jumping, but I’m kind of a chicken about it.”

She’s easing back into riding after recovering from a back injury.

“I shoot for every day,” she says, “but it always seems like something comes up.”

She says her horses help with her 20 students.

“I consider the horses to be as much an instructor as I am,” Krieckhaus says.

Her goal is to teach 60 students or 40 lessons a week: “If it gets big enough, I’ll end up hiring on an assistant instructor and take it from there. Maybe at that point I’ll consider opening an indoor (arena).”

That would mean she could teach all the time.

“Weather is the biggest (challenge),” Krieckhaus says. “I cut off my lessons at a 20-degree wind chill.”

But on this Saturday, despite the biting wind, it’s warm enough for the hearty to ride, and a few hours after cleaning the paddocks — a chore she tries to do every day — Krieckhaus paces around the outdoor ring, teaching a mother and daughter. She follows after them on foot, calling instructions as the two trot.

“Stretch down in your heels, stretch up in your chest,” Krieckhaus calls. “You’re letting her fool you.” She turns around and eyes the mother. “Eyes up, Lauren. Looking ahead. Good.”

For 45 minutes, she pushes the pair. As the wind blows through the trees, some of the other horses watch the lessons with apparent interest. Krieckhaus recites a phrase like a mantra: “Relax, look and breathe.”

After the lesson, she oversees the untacking and grooming in the storage shed she converted. She has two more lessons this day but wears enough layers to fight off the cold.

Krieckhaus says she believes horseback riding can build a confidence that extends far beyond the barn.

“It’s a whole attitude changer,” she says. “If they can come out here and control a 1,000-pound beast, they can control other things in their life, too.”

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