Horses have been domesticated for nearly 6,000 years. They help with hard labor, war, travel and, in the case of one horse at Clover Valley Riding Center, finishing off the leftover pastries.
Clover Valley, located off Phillips Road in Port Orchard, has been boarding horses and training riders since 1990 when owner Jill Seely bought the property after a suggestion from an unlikely source.
“My hairdresser owns property down the road and told me I needed to come look at this place,” Seely said. “I bought it a couple months later.”
Seely has loved horses from an early age, ever since her family moved into a house that had horses next door.
“I would pet them all day long,” Seely said. “One day, my mom couldn’t find me, and she had to come drag me out of the pen. Well, she had to get the neighbor to help because she was terrified of them.”
Seely has been hooked ever since. She competed in dressage and eventing (a three-day competition including dressage, endurance and show jumping) and even represented the United States in the Canadian Nationals in the 1980s.
“Once I got the barn, I mainly only did dressage,” she said. “I couldn’t do the three-day disciplines and run a barn.”
Along with Seely, Clover Valley has two fellow trainers on staff, Chanda Nixon and Anne Montgomery. Both also give lessons.
Clover Valley offers training, boarding and therapy for horses. Seely said there is someone at the property around the clock to tend to the horses and make sure things are running smoothly.
“Many of our horses compete at top levels, and they are putting out max effort, so they’re treated like athletes,” Seely said. “They have chiropractic appointments and massage appointments, along with their regular vet and shoe appointments. We keep tabs on their health.”
Recently, the riding center purchased a Theraplate, a two-piece mobile platform that helps regulate the horse’s circulation. Similar to an oscillation machine at a gym for humans, a Theraplate keeps the horses warm, helps with pain and gets the horses ready to compete.
“Athletes brought these to the Olympics this year for training,” Seely said.
Competitions run from April through October and take place an average of every other weekend.
With a large group of adult amateur and junior-level riders, Clover Valley caters to everyone and has horses available to lease for those who are interested.
Every horse boarded at Clover Valley has a unique personality, Seely said. Pablo competes in Grand Prix, which is the top level of dressage. Marrakech is a bit of a rascal. He likes to blow his nose at you until you bring him food.
Then there is Nelson, whose favorite treat is donuts.
Nelson is a 25-year-old retired competitor who now helps with training beginning riders. He was imported from Hungary to Germany before Seely brought him to Washington.
“He was raised in a small, closed environment, Seeely said, “so when he first got here, he was terrified of all the farm animals. Ducks, rabbits, pigs, cows, they all terrified him when he saw them.”
But that all went away one morning when the team was preparing to head out for a competition.
“One thing they do in Europe is give day-old pastries to their horses,” Seely said.
“I had him not too long when we were getting ready for competition and I brought in a box of donuts and put them on the table.”
The table is about 40 feet from Nelson’s stable. He hooked his head around the wall and began to stomp his feet and make noises to get Seely’s attention.
“He was looking at the box like, ‘Me, me me, I want a donut!,’” she said.
“Horses just eat little bites if they don’t like something and I thought, ‘There’s no way he’ll eat it, I’ll just give him a taste.’”
He ate the whole thing in one bite.
“He eats donuts like they’re going out of style,” Seely said. “We joke that he needs a sign that says, ‘Will work for donuts.’”
So now, whenever boarders or clients bring in treats, Nelson gets a box of day-old donuts.
“All the horses have huge personalities,” Seely said. “They’re characters in their own right, and we cater to every one of them.”
Seely described everyone at Clover Valley as one big family.
“Everybody is here for everybody else,” she said, “competing against each other or not. Everyone looks out for each other and each other’s horses, and offer moral support in the arena. It’s wonderful to see.”
An example of that family atmosphere is Wednesday Wine Night hosted every week.
It began three years ago when a rider suffered an accident and lost confidence in herself and her horse. Seely began to help rehabilitate her back into riding and reconnect with her once “extreme” riding partner. With that help from Seely, she was ready to, well, get back on the horse.
That night, clients and boarders all showed up to support her. They brought wine and cheese, and all rode together. The weekly tradition has grown from there.
“People come to see what’s going on with all the horses and each other,” Seely said. “It’s an open invite for anyone who wants to come out and watch lessons.
“It’s a wonderful group of people who go out and do amazing things.”