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Saddleseat trainer Leslie Melvin learned the basics from her mother at their Bland County home.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Leslie Melvin owns Stonebrook Farm in Bland County where she trains Saddlebreds. Nine horses from her barn will be showing in the Roanoke Valley Horse Show this week. Melvin said she's been training Saddlebreds for about 12 years. "I love the horses," Melvin said. "They're just like people; they all have different personalities."
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Leslie Melvin learned at an early age what was involved with being a strong riding instructor. She had an excellent example. Her mother taught her how to ride.
When Melvin and her older brother Bradley Gordon were young, their mother, Sharon Gordon, had them up on a pony learning the basics. When the young people were proficient enough to attend horse shows, they switched to American Saddlebreds and moved away from the walking horses their mother favored.
“We trained our own horses at home,” Melvin said.
By age 16, she started taking lessons with pro Smith Lilly in Princeton, W.Va. They bought a horse from him and initially there was much to learn. Lilly offered to let Melvin work for him over her Christmas break at Bland County High School so she could pick up some of the particulars of caring for a horse.
“And the rest is history,” said Melvin, 32.
Melvin and her Stone Brook Farm clients have been making their own history, some of it at the Roanoke Valley Horse Show. The 42nd running of the show continues this week through Saturday at Salem Civic Center. Melvin has been bringing horses and customers here ever since she’s been in business for herself.
“The thing that really sticks out about her is she emphasizes you having fun, which is really nice,” said Megan Graham , who has been with Melvin since she started her business. “Other barns can really put pressure on you to do well. She wants us to do well, too, but she wants us to have fun first.”
Make no mistake, Melvin’s students are here to compete. Graham plans to be abourd Who’s My Daddy in the Five Gaited Amateur C hampionship Friday. Tony Miller from Winston-Salem, N.C. is entered to ride Thunder’s Fair Lady in the same class. Kendell Stuart will ride He’s Legend in the Park Horse Open. Angela Sargent will be in the stirrups on Winsdown Point Breeze in Three Gaited Show Pleasure Adult classes.
“She’s just awesome to work with,” Kendell Stuart said.
Stuart is a cousin but says that confers no special status.
“She treats everybody like family.”
Melvin and her students stay busy during show season traveling to big shows such as the World Championship in Louisville, Ky., and local shows in Bland County.
“Since March, we’ve gone just about every other weekend,” she said. “We’ve already gone to Raleigh, N.C. twice this year and we’ll go back in the fall. We’ll go to the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington twice a year.”
As with many regulars in Salem this week, Melvin has been loyal because this has never been just another horse show.
“I love the atmosphere and the crowd at this show,” she said. “There are more spectators here than at most of the other shows we go to. There are more people who come to this show who don’t know what we do, that don’t understand it. That’s what I like.
“They’re not horse people already. Most of the shows we go to, most of them are already horse people; they already know. Here, they’ll come up to you and say ‘Oh, are these jumping horses?’ And we’ll say no, these are saddle horses.”
The best part for her is the bracing atmosphere of Saturday night’s championship classes. Saddlebreds and hackney ponies show before the Grand Prix jumper class closes the evening’s competition.
By the time the jumpers hit the course, the tension is cranked to the max in the indoor arena.
That’s not the kind of experience you’re likely to find in peaceful Bland County, whether in the saddle or not.
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