Jodi Higdon first rode a horse while in diapers. Her family has always had horses. She was raised in a family that practiced thewestern and hunt seat styles of horseback riding. The western style utilizes a heavy saddle and is done at a slower pace. It is the style people see when someone goes trail riding across the country. The style originated on cattle ranches and suited the needs of cowboys. Hunt seat is one of the classic forms of English riding. It often involves jumping over fences, and is based off the tradition of fox hunting. Higdon had a pony in which she used to practice both the western and the hunt seat styles of horseback riding on. However, Higdon discovered she had another passion when she went with her family to the Michigan State Fair at age 8. When she was watching the horse show she witnessed the saddle seat style of horseback riding. “I started crying saying that’s what I want to do,” Higdon said. Saddle seat is another form of English riding. The horses pick up their feet higher and, according to Higdon, are more lively and animated. It developed from two sources. The first was the plantation tradition of the American south where plantation owners required high-stepping horses for overseers to travel across the fields and for riding into town. The second influence was European, in which riders rode flashy, high stepping horses to city parks. “Most people get a Western style horse. That’s what they see on TV. That’s what they know about. I would say saddle seat is least common,” Higdon said. In 1989, Higdon’s family farm was established as an incorporation called Executive Farms. Her dad bought an indoor riding arena in which riders could ride in rain, snow, sleet and all other weather conditions, heated offices and heated viewing areas. “It went from just for fun to a business. Before it was an in our own backyard kind of thing,” Higdon said. Shortly afterwards, in 1990, Higdon started teaching horseback riding lessons. “I was the only kid in high school making $25 an hour,” she said. Although Higdon also teaches western and hunt seat styles, she specializes in saddle seat style horseback lessons. Most lessons last for an hour. The first 15 minutes is spent brushing & saddling the horse and learning general care of the horse. Then, 30 minutes are spent riding. Higdon pays special attention to how the rider looks on the horse and sits on the horse. Then, an additional 15 minutes or more is spent grooming the horse. Higdon said riders may even have to give the horse a bath if it is extremely sweaty. Right now, there is a Groupon for new customers to Executive Farms. They can purchase one private horseback riding lesson for $18. Two private lessons are $31 through Groupon. Regular prices are six private lessons for $150, or $35 each. After taking private lessons, riders can enroll in group lesson when the instructor deems them ready. Group lessons are 10 for $200, or $25 each. Although Higdon said she has given lessons to grandmothers in their 70s, she said most of her students are between 8 and 12. Also, she said there are more pee-wee riders in lessons than ever before. Pee-wee riders are those between age 3 and 6. “The pee-wee riders only ride the horse for 15 minutes because of their attention span,” Higdon said. Executive Farms also offers birthday parties and Girl Scout troop badges. Birthday parties last two hours. Parents bring the birthday cake, and Executive Farms provides pizza, pop and a gift bag with a coupon for a free private lesson worth $35. During the party, participants learn to brush, saddle and ride the horses. They also play with cats, dogs, donkeys and ducks at the farm. The cost is $20 per child. “Parents are always looking for a new theme for a party. This is different and fun. The kids are getting exercise because it’s more physical. Everyone always has a blast,” Higdon said. In addition, Girl Scout troops earn Horse Rider or Horse Lover badges. Executive Farms also has a nationally known youth club for those 21 and younger. (Older people can be advisors.) The club started in 1999 and is called the Tall Tails Youth Club. Executive Farms holds meetings once a month. In them, participants give presentations about horses. They do tours of veterinary clinics and animal hospitals and they listen to guest speakers, such as horse chiropractors and horse massage therapists. They also volunteer for a therapeutic riding program and do work with the Humane Society. Additionally, the group has 15 badges of its own they can earn. Because of all this, the club was the 2009 and 2015 National Youth Club of the Year. “Anybody can be a member. You don’t have to have a horse or take lessons here. You just have to be interested in horses,” Higdon said. The cost to join is $24 a year to pay for the cost of materials needed. Executive Farms also offers four competitions yearly for its riders. Riders compete in categories based on age and whether the rider is showing an equitation, in which the form or foundation of the rider is judged, or for pleasure, in which the horse is judged. The age groups for junior exhibitors are 10 & under, 11-13 and 14-17. There is amateur adult division and an open division. First through sixth place in each category receive ribbons. Although the four horse shows are a great motivator, Higdon said some riders go beyond those. “If you’re serious you’ll want to compete all over the country, not just focus on our four shows per year. There are scholarships they can earn. If you’re serious you never quit learning. You do more advanced horse shows with more advanced horses,” she said. Executive Farms also offers horse training for horses that will be used for horseback riding. Additionally, the farm boards horses. Higdon said many people board their horses when they get horses and have no place to keep them. Interestingly, many riders sell their horses when they go away to college. “Some I get young. I get them through school. They go away when they’re in college. Many come back,” Higdon said. One of Higdon’s former horseback riding students sold her horse. Higdon ended up getting the horse. Higdon called her former student on the phone and told her she needed to talk to her. When the former student got there she was surprised to see her old horse. “She saw the horse and started crying,” Higdon said. Indeed, horses bring joy and tears to those that ride them.Executive Farms Inc.
10391 Hogan Rd. Swartz Creek, Michigan 48473