Horsing Around Permitted
Laid-back lessons in family fun the ‘mane’ goal at Painted Oaks Academy
by Cortney Kowalisyn STAFF WRITER for the East Orlando Sun
Galloping across the rustic terrain and rambling rivers of Wisconsin’s outland countryside, David Ottersen was raised riding horses. So in tune with the graceful beasts, in fact, he often forfeited use of his saddle, preferring to ride bareback instead.
It was a peaceful existence, the likes of which the country-boy-at heart could never quite let go. So when life’s course led him to marry animal-lover Lisa Hall, an equineenthusiast herself, and the opportunity came along for the two to operate a horse boarding and training facility of their very own, they just couldn’t say ‘neigh’.
“What happened is, after we had our second child (Cameron, 18 months), Lisa had left the workplace — she used to own her own commercial and residential cleaning company, so we were kind of looking for a new business that she could do,” explained Ottersen, recounting the pizza parlor idea and other none-too-inspiring business concepts that he and his bride of five years contemplated before learning about Painted Oaks Academy.
A Realtor/Mortgage Broker himself, Ottersen was just going through property listings one day when he came across a private listing for the equestrian center located at 15100 Lake Pickett Road. He grabbed his keys, took a drive over to the 10-acre site and was immediately taken with it. After calling his wife to come survey the outlay of pastures and stables for herself, the pair decided on the spot to make an offer to buy.
“Everything was just so pristine and clean. And when Lisa saw those horses, we just fell in love with it,” said Ottersen.
The fact that the Little Econ River flows behind the property, making it a preservation area, was also a big selling point. That as well as the facility’s close proximity to the various horse-riding trails scattered throughout the Geneva, Oviedo and Christmas areas.
For Hall, who had grown increasingly fond of horses over the course of their courtship — during weekend getaways together the two would often go riding on trails or along the beach— her equine interest had already spurred her to receive professional equestrian training via a Certified Horsemanship Association accredited program. As a result, the new business venture allowed her an opportunity to put her skills to work.
Now, operating the scenic facility since April, Hall spends her days managing tasks that range from receiving feed to monitoring the health of the horses to teaching beginner riding lessons.
Ottersen, meanwhile, splits his time between continuing his real estate dealings, balancing his new company’s finances and working to spruce up the Painted Oaks property.
One of his early projects involved transforming an old hay house into a bunk house/game room where his sons, Cameron and David, 4, can often be found playing. Complete with a kitchen and bathroom, the multipurpose shelter also provides a spot where guests to the facility can come to sit and take a load off, perhaps while a family member is receiving their lesson.
Horse-loving helpers like 21-year-old Sara Sexton are also a fixture at Painted Oaks. Working there part time since September, her responsibilities include distributing feed to the horses and mending downed fence boards whenever an overzealous leap accidentally kicks one down.
“Horses are like magnets; people just enjoy being around them. We always have volunteers who come around to help us out, but more than anything they just like hugging them and feeding them carrots,” said Ottersen. “I have fun just talking to them and walking around with them.”
With 20 horses on site, 13 of which are boarded, meaning their owners pay a fee to have their horse housed, fed and generally taken care of, and another seven that are owned by Ottersen and Hall, Painted Oaks prides itself on being home to a diverse array of gentle, rider-friendly horses that are ideal for giving lessons.
With each exhibiting unique personalities and temperaments, some of the more quirky of the horses, like 5-year-old Sparkey the Wonder Pony, for example, seem to be favorites among many of the children who visit Painted Oaks to receive lessons.
“We use him when we do the pony parties too,” said Hall, explaining that during children’s parties, the approximately five-foot-tall, copper-colored pony is suited up with a small-scale saddle to allow for youngsters to enjoy a guided ride.
Sparkey’s cooperation is also employed during summer camps, when children are invited to stamp their hands in non-toxic paint and place handprints and other Indian war paint-type characters on the pony’s back.
“Summer camp here is awesome; the kids just love it. We put a little pinata up and we do the eggs and spoon races, pin the tail on the horsey … Everyone just has a wonderful time. We also have an all-day Christmas camp two weeks out of the year, while the kids are out of school,” said Ottersen.
While the facility does offer structured instruction in the English style of riding — a team of certified instructors are available to work with beginner through advanced levels — the focus is more on families and having fun than than about imparting strict form adherence.
Considering Ottersen’s rugged riding background, where the heels-down, posture-back English form and the sophisticated terms of equestrian vernacular were never enforced, his prime goal is to help others savor the simple joys of the horse/rider bond.
“People and horses go together really well; they just have a natural bond. We focus on that. We’re a really family-oriented type of place,” said Ottersen.
Looking ahead to future goals, Painted Oaks has plans to turn the property’s main house, which is currently zoned residential and serves as the family’s domicile, into an office and equestrian training center. They are also in talks to begin offering therapeutic riding sessions for battered women, kids with drug problems and corporate groups interested in doing team-building activities.
“Being here, where it’s breezy and shady and relaxing, it’s just a little piece of heaven,” said Ottersen.
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