Horseback Riding with Evenstride Farm
Olana Laffey and two young students take lessons on Pippi and Mandy
Photos by Elise Donoghue
Evenstride offers riding lessons for kids and adults alike.
As Olana Laffey walks down the isle of stalls, she reaches out to stroke the horses’ muzzles while her Jack Russell terrier Pongo weaves in between her feet. For more than 30 years, Laffey has been running Evenstride, a riding center in bucolic Byfield. Laffey has an impressive background in the sport, and has trained equitation and hunter/jumper riders for decades. Her students have shown in the national finals, including the Massachusetts Horsemen’s Council Days of Champions, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, and the Washington International Horse Show.
Laffey got her start in the business when she leased the Evenstride stables in 1983 from the Jespersen family, who own the barn along with 120 acres of open fields and woodland in town. The stables had been standing vacant for years, and she approached the Jespersens with the idea of her running a riding center. Today, Laffey boards 25 horses and owns 10 for instruction.
Evenstride is the largest indoor arena in the region with both an outdoor sand ring and a dressage ring, as well as several paddocks. She offers lessons for beginners as young as four years old and for adults interested in learning to ride or wanting to get back in the saddle after years of being away from the sport. For experienced riders, lessons focus on the goal of the rider—whether it’s the development of a young horse or competition at the highest level. “The summer camps are fun for kids—we hold week sessions for up to 10 students,” she says. “Along with riding, we mix in crafts with learning about and caring for horses.” For leisurely rides, Laffey will take groups to Crane Beach in Ipswich. “When the tide is out, you can ride for hours,” she notes.
Olana’s son, Scott, and daughter, Larissa, grew up on the horse farm and are both accomplished riders. They inherited their mother’s passion for riding and even took their horses with them to college (Larissa’s to Kansas and Scott’s to Oklahoma). Scott attended Oklahoma State University where he continued his equestrian education and received a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness. He won the International Buckskin Horse Association World Show championship, is a judge for hunters and hunter seat equestrian, and is an assistant coach of Evenstride’s Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team, a national organization created to introduce students in private and public middle and secondary schools to equestrian sports. Today, he works with his mother to manage the farm and train students.
Evenstride trainer Andrea Mank has also been riding since she was a small child growing up in Oregon. She attended Mount Holyoke College, where she was active in the college’s equestrian program and became an instructor at Evenstride 10 years ago. Mank teaches lessons and has a special talent for young horses and ponies. Along with Olana and Scott, Mank coaches Evenstride’s IEA team.
“I’ve been riding at Evenstride since I was seven years old,” says Hanna Pattie, who boards her horse at the stables. Now 23, Pattie rides every chance she gets. “I took my horse to Stonehill College while attending school so I could continue to ride and practice,” she notes. “I love coming to the barn—there is such a sense of community. Everyone has a passion for riding and really cares about the horses.”
Hanna Pattie rides Tucker in the outdoor ring (L), A young rider walks Gem into the ring (R)
Although Evenstride produces award-winning athletes, it also caters to youth and adults that just want to ride. Anne Zeiser came to Evenstride after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to treat breast cancer. “I met Laura Kadane, a rider at Evenstride, at a DSW shoe store [while] looking for Ariat clogs. We struck up a conversation about our love of horses and Laura told me to come and see her ride at Evenstride,” says Zeiser. “I was bald and frail and I hadn’t ridden in 30 years—I couldn’t even lift my arms above my shoulders after my surgery.” But Zeiser made the drive from her home in Lynnfield to watch Laura’s lesson and knew she wanted to ride again.
“My cancer made me realize what was important to me in life. I wanted to be around horses—just brushing the horses was therapeutic,” notes Zeiser. Zeiser has been riding with Olana for four years, and this past May hit her five- year cancer-free mark. “I love Olana’s philosophy—she offers a holistic approach to riding and fosters a sense of well-being and community,” she says. “Hierarchy doesn’t exist among riders—everyone is treated with the same respect.” When Zeiser mounts a horse, all the stress of daily life disappears. Zeiser has lost two sisters and her mother to cancer. Evenstride has become a place for her to heal. “I trust Olana completely. She has a unique gift of pairing people with horses.” Zeiser pauses and continues, “Evenstride gives me a ‘halo effect’ every time I visit.”
For more information on Eventstride, visit their website at evenstrideltd.com.