Horseback fairy tales come true for area girls

Andrea Alexander
Emily Cardwell leads her pony Jazzy out for an afternoon session at Fairy Tale Equestrian Team in Prairieville.

Fairy Tale Equestrian Team in Prairieville is an obscure horse farm tiny enough to be less than a blip on a GPS tracker. But the unusual natural horsemanship being taught here makes it loom large in a visitor’s first impression. The animals exude a confidence and express themselves in ways that leave one believing they’ll strike up a conversation any moment.

Most of the horses are geldings, including a tall one named Ichabod. They saunter up to strangers and hob-nob freely with the family dogs in a little fenced-in lot. Any person standing within this lot will be nudged, nuzzled, and literally ringed in by these amiable beasts. Eagle, the Shetland pony, is the most fearless. He has the startling knack of appearing out of nowhere to stand at a person’s elbow -- as if staking out his territory or asserting his equality with all humankind. A bulldog shows no qualms about pushing his wet nose against someone’s leg and commencing to sniff. All in all, it’s a delightful mix of humans, horses, and canines who mingle without the usual established pecking order. Don’t expect the “normal” rules of human-animal interaction at Fairy Tale Equestrian Team. The animals here are no shrinking violets.

Alicia Millet, 24, is the owner of Fairy Tale Equestrian Team, although it might be more fitting to say she’s the “mistress.” That’s because Millet is interested only in developing friendly, intimate relationships between horses and riders. Her goal is to teach her small group of girls how to ride and train their horses using peaceful, natural modes of communication.

“This method of natural horsemanship emphasizes riders having a relationship with their horses instead of butting heads with them and using coercion. It’s a calm, fluid, spiritual way of relating to the horse,” Millet says.

“There’s a whole theory behind this,” she continues. “Humans are predatory creatures, whereas horses react like prey. They’re fearful and tend to shy away or run from threats. People want to use force, but this only makes the horse upset and react negatively.”

Instead, Millet’s preferred method of relating to horses aims to establish trust, “so the horses actually want to be with you.”

In her world, horses’ feelings are as important as humans’ feelings, so it’s no surprise that Millet sees herself as “an advocate for horses.”

“I like to help horses find the right rider, because that’s something they wouldn’t normally get to choose,” she says. “Just like people, horses have different personalities, and relate better to certain people than to others. I love it when the horses are excited to see us and run to meet us.”

Millet, who’s been riding annd training horses since she was 12, focuses on building horse-rider rapport with the use of the horse’s nonverbal body language, instead of excessive voice commands.

On a recent cool November afternoon, while mosquitos are having a feast day, Millet coaches two young students to trot their horses around the ring. Thirteen-year-old Morgan Tidwell is riding Ichabod, whom she’s described as “sweet but hyper.” Emily Cardwell, 8, is riding her pony Jazzy.

Both girls recently won Reserve Champion in competitions at an area horse show.

This afternoon, their faces are calm, eager, and absorbed; their backs as straight as rulers.

“Let’s go from a trot to a walk. Lean back, don’t use the reins,” Millet calls out encouragingly.

The girls comply, giggling a little. The last pale shafts of evening light pass obliquely over their faces.

“We try to do everything with lightness. I teach them to slow down without pulling on the mouth, to keep them in harmony with their horses,” Millet says.

The hour-long sessions include grooming, tacking and saddling up, riding, jumping, and horsemanship. Millet plans to offer holiday riding camps for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she wants to keep her group of regular students small, so that it’s conducive to more focused instruction and intimate relationships. Millet teaches about 10 students, both here and at some students’ homes.

Morgan’s grandparents James and Gwen Tidwell are particularly involved in each of her lessons.

“It’s a family thing,” James says. “We didn’t have a love of horses until Morgan started this. Now, we’ll come out here with a lawn chair in the middle of the week. It’s very peaceful and relaxing.”

“It’s worth the time and money because it keeps these girls in wholesome activities through their teen years,” his wife Gwen adds.

It’s no small feat to keep young people safe and engaged in pursuing a passion or a dream in today’s world. In this case, one might say it’s like stumbling into a fairy tale, where horses choose their riders and help manage the dynamics of interaction.

But one thing’s for sure. Don’t even think to get out of here without Eagle’s permission.

Alicia Millet helps Morgan Tidwell put a bridle on Ichobod during a recent riding session at Fairy Tale Equestrian Team in Prairieville.