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Horsin' Around: Kinni Valley Riding Academy notches 50 years in the saddle

Kinni Valley trail rides wind through the multi-faceted Kinnickinnic Valley. Submitted photo1 / 2
Carolyn Lowe Laurel stands with her father and several horses in one of the pastures at Kinni Valley Riding Academy. Debbie Griffin photo2 / 2

Tom and Bev Lowe of River Falls made a commitment to horses 50 years ago, opening their family-farm acreage for a trail-riding business now named the Kinni Valley Riding Academy.

As the business prepares to celebrate a five-decade anniversary, it also transfers ownership to the next generation.

The Lowes raised four daughters on their town of Kinnickinnic farm: Carolyn, Elizabeth, Ellen and Margaret.

All grew up with horses and started riding at a young age. Three of the four women work with horses as a career.

Carolyn Lowe Laurel took ownership of the family business late last year. She plans to continue the treasured equine traditions in what she calls the "mystical" Kinnickinnic Valley. It seems to offer horse and rider mutual contentment.

The business transaction consolidates two companies into one. Carolyn opened a riding academy on the property in 1995, then built a facility next door to the trail-riding stables two years later.

The two businesses complemented one another, so when Tom and Bev retired, it felt natural to combine them under one: Kinni Valley Riding Academy.

Horse history happens

Tom recalls the day he began thinking of starting a riding stable. He stopped into a local tavern for a beer, saw a friend and talked to him about the idea.

Not long after, he bought the 13 horses and 13 saddles that started everything.

He said he grew up on farms.

"I had my own team by the time I was nine," Tom said.

Carolyn enjoys hearing people's stories and memories originating from the business. One day a man brought his young daughter riding and told her, "This is what your mommy and I were doing when I proposed to her."

Another man, a former local, remembered good, relaxing times at Kinni Valley. He sought respite there while he was in town to take care of his sick parents.

Carolyn said as she took ownership of the business, she carefully considered those stories. She wanted to make sure the future included all the things "...that people have dearly loved" during Kinni Valley's history.

Barnyard benefits

Kinni Valley Riding Academy sits on 150 acres in the town of Kinnickinnic, with the namesake river running through parts of the property.

Passersby can see the large, heated, indoor arena; several horse barns; and the company's sign from Hwy. 65. Trail riders -- the majority of whom come from outside River Falls -- take in the valley's beauty as they clip-clop through it.

Carolyn said the business owns 45 horses, most of which come from training-intensive backgrounds, like racing or showing. Riders can "meet" each one on Kinni Valley's website.

"They've come from performance histories," she said about the equines.

That means they're smart and versatile. The animals respond well to instruction but also know what to do even when the rider doesn't.

She explains that Kinni Valley owns all its horses; they're allowed to retire, grow old and die there. Unlike some other riding businesses, the local one does not use leased or boarded horses for trail rides or lessons.

Tom interjects, "We always tried to pick horses we'd want to ride."

Kinni Valley offers trail rides during all seasons except winter and lessons throughout the year. Carolyn emphasizes how the business caters to riders of all skill levels and is unique to the region.

Someone could be an expert or a first-time rider, and Kinni Valley's goal would be to meet them at their level, and give instruction or information to help.

Pleasure riding includes small lessons like how to sit correctly in the saddle, how to handle reins and steer the horse, as well as other cues riders can use.

"We're able to do more individualized attention," she said, adding that it's important for any rider to have a good base of knowledge.

She says the riding experience there doesn't fit people's stereotypical idea of a trail ride. The business offers private rides for one person, semi-private rides for two-four people, or group rides for five or more people.

Carolyn said, "The really interesting thing about our riding stable is that we don't combine groups," so nobody rides with strangers.

Sometimes corporate groups or business managers come for a retreat, families and friends come for reunions, friends come for a gathering, and many come for beginner or advanced summer camps.

No matter what the occasion, says the owner, people seem to enjoy the riding and the beautiful Kinnickinnic Valley.

"Dad started the Girl Scout work years and years ago," said Carolyn, explaining that many Girl Scouts earn their equine patches at Kinni Valley.

Besides Carolyn, the business employs four or five people who work seasonally. She says they help with everything from instruction and trail rides to cleaning and animal care.

Many students from UW-River Falls have learned on the job about the horse-oriented business. Carolyn helps them sharpen their skills and become better instructors.

People may come for a recreational experience, a one-time lesson, a 7-week series of lessons, or years of series of lessons. Whatever their desire, Carolyn said the goal is to help them grow in their experience.

"When I started my riding academy," she said, "I wanted to offer world-class riding information to anybody."

The owner herself qualifies as a top expert. Carolyn has 25 years of horse instruction, training, competition, and business experience.

She specializes in dressage and western performance including riding, reining, and pleasure. She's worked with trainers all over the world and says she enjoys sharing what she knows with all different kinds of riders.

Asked what she loves about horses and the business, Carolyn says it's knowing what the experience means to riders.

By the stories she hears and the feedback she gets, the owner knows that working with a horse is a meaningful "life experience." Riding can stimulate the senses and touch the soul.

She said, "What keeps me going is how much it matters to people."