As Loudoun’s leaders often point out, the county offers an interesting dichotomy of neatly manicured suburbia adjacent to bucolic beauty. For Twin Oaks Riding Academy it’s the perfect location to offer horse lovers the fun and discipline of learning to ride without the investment in or commitment to owning the animal. Just a mile and a half from the Brambleton Town Center, the farm has eight horses ready ride.
“Kids around here are growing up in an urban environment. It’s healthy and wholesome for them to be in open spaces with fresh air and the animals,” said Twin Oaks owner, Nancy Smith.
Smith opened Twin Oaks Riding Academy when she and her husband moved to Ashburn in 2000 from Houston, TX, where she spent 20 years and also owned a riding school.
Although she was “bit by the horse bug” at a young age, after taking up riding with her mother, Smith never expected to go into the horse business.
“I have a degree in business management,” she said, but “starting this business was not my intention.”
As is so much in life, getting into the horse riding business was a matter of being in the right place at the right time for Smith. In Houston, she worked a full-time job and rode for leisure; then a friend mentioned that her daughter needed riding lessons. That friend convinced Smith to perform the job on weekends and, like wildfire, word spread about Smith’s lessons. Within a month she had 20 students and not enough time, so she decided to take the opportunity seriously.
“Within a year of deciding to go into business I had found a place to lease, bought eight horses, hung out my shingle and started teaching,” she said.
Smith brought the business to Northern Virginia with her 11 years ago, where she found a new crop of students ready to learn. She’s has been teaching locals how to ride ever since. She teaches people from 7 years old to adult in small groups of four to five, which helps to foster camaraderie. Group lessons also offer a chance for riders to learn from each other’s mistakes and encourage each other along the way. Smith feels that once people start the process of learning to ride a horse they gain confidence that will carry over into other parts of their lives. Her favorite part of her job is watching young girls grow into confident, strong women.
“A shy, young lady will walk in and after a few years of taking lessons she will grow into a confident woman,” Smith explained. “When a young girl rides, she needs to know how to communicate and when that assertive side is brought out it can make her more successful in the classroom, with friends and in life.”
Smith said riding a horse teaches people that every move they make causes a reaction, which makes them more aware of their surroundings.
The Twin Oaks Riding Academy program also places an emphasis on safety.
“We are very safety-oriented,” said Smith. “Our students acquire skills and respect for the horses in a safe environment.”
Prospective riders should be prepared to learn more than just how to ride a horse, however. Smith understands the importance of exposing riders to the responsibilities of horse ownership and therefore incorporates chores into her program.
“I tell the students that they should spend two hours of work for every one hour of riding,” she said. “If they are ever going to consider buying a horse, they need to know that there is a lot of work involved.”
Twin Oaks teaches English-style riding lessons, which is what you would see in the Olympics. Riders use a smaller saddle with the objective of jumping obstacles. Lessons are taught after school and on Saturday mornings. Summer camps are also popular as well as the bimonthly Young Rider Program for 5- to 12-year-olds seeking a basic introduction to riding. The Girl Scouts National Council has designated Twin Oaks Riding Academy an approved vendor for the organization and local Girl Scouts can attend a lesson to earn a badge.
Anyone looking for a real-life riding experience, Nancy and her equine friends – Sebastian, Bradley, Frank, Cricket, Beau and Bailey – are waiting to meet you.