GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – For a long time, Emma Jacobson wanted a horse. Her parents, Brandon and Nicole Jacobson, didn’t have horses, but Emma knew this was something she wanted.
So, in June 2021, they signed her up for riding lessons at Lee-Mar Horse Ranch Equine Center, under the direction of Morgan Schmidt, barn manager.
“She rode our program horses all summer and fall and learned from them,” Morgan said.
Beginning with lessons one time per week, 12-year-old Emma was soon volunteering to help clean the barn in exchange for riding horses. The equine center has eight program horses, and she learned to ride them all.
“I love horses,” Emma said. “They are calming.”
Just four months after she started taking lessons, Emma was ready to ride in her first saddle club show.
“She rode my paint horse gelding, ‘Gambler,’ a stubborn old fella, so she learned how to ride more aggressively,” Morgan said.
By the winter of 2021-22, Emma had convinced her parents that she needed her own horse. Morgan had a horse named “Whiskey” that the Jacobsons considered buying, but it wasn’t the best match up.
“Our friends, Jason and Christie Bratsch, brought in their horse, ‘Diesel’ for her to try,” Morgan said. “You could tell she fell in love with Diesel right away. He was the perfect first horse for their family.”
“After I got Diesel, I realized that when you do shows or anything, you can’t just hop on a horse and go,” Emma said. “You have to have bond if you want to do great and have fun.”
Now, one year after she started riding horses, Emma helps clean stalls and looks after both boarded and program horses. She also has started competing in barrels, roping, and other rodeo events.
“Her parents set her up for success,” Morgan said. “When you come from a family without horses, it’s always a good idea to start with taking lessons to see if it’s something they want to commit to.”
All told, the U.S. has over 7 million horses with an economic impact of $122 billion, according to the University of Minnesota Extension equine program. The horse industry contributes $50 billion directly to the economy and provides almost 1 million jobs.
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Minnesota ranks 18th in the nation in horse population. The states with the largest number of horses are Texas, California, and Florida.
Of the 143,000 horses in Minnesota, about 41,000 are Quarter Horses and 20,000 are Thoroughbreds, according to the American Horse Council and the Minnesota Horse Council.
Minnesota has about 680,000 households with a horse enthusiast, but only 29,000 households own a horse.
About 17 percent of Minnesota horse owners take lessons, 17 percent manage barns, and 15 percent train horses. Up to 14,000 Minnesota residents volunteer their time toward horse-related activities.
Seeing Emma ride Diesel and gaining experience reminds Morgan of her own experience with horses growing up.
Morgan grew up in town with a family that didn’t have livestock or horses, but she wanted a horse.
“A friend of mine had horses, and I would occasionally go to their house and ride with them,” she said.
In the fall of 2013, her friend got a new horse, “Buck,” that no one was really interested in, and so Morgan had her opportunity to work with him.
She leased Buck from 2013-19 for horse shows and 4-H. After high school, she went to college and earned a diploma in Equine Science.
Along with her position as barn manager, Morgan is head coach of Lee-Mar Ranch Special Olympics team. In this role, she works with individuals who have a cognitive delay or intellectual disability. She’s preparing nine riders for the state competition in North Branch, Minn., in August.
The equine center also houses a therapeutic riding program that is very much in demand. Morgan says the eight horses in the program are “almost at their maximum workload.”
Gambler, Whiskey, and Diesel are all boarded at Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center, too, as are “Diamonds” and “Sue,” who belong to the previous barn manager. Morgan rides both mares for saddle club shows and Whiskey for barrel racing ranch rodeo competitions.
Recently, volunteers from Lee-Mar Ranch Equine Center visited Renvilla Care Center in Renville, Minn., the Clara City Care Center, and Fieldcrest Assisted Living in Cottonwood. Among the volunteers who brought horses to Fieldcrest were Morgan and Emma.
Emma’s mom, Nicole, described how life has changed at their home. The Jacobsons until recently were racecar enthusiasts, but now they support Emma’s desire to work with horses. She’s only going into eighth grade, but Emma has already shown how much someone can accomplish when they’ve found their love of horses.
“I found that by riding Diesel for a few weeks, we found our bond and he is one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Emma said.