An abbreviated version of this article appears in our Mar/Apr Issue. This article was written and submitted by Paula Kuiper and Barbara Hort.
It was the only dream she had ever had…to run her own riding stable. Training horses, teaching riders, competing in jumping, dressage, and eventing, and overseeing the care of a group of cherished and pampered horses whose owners want the very best for their beloved beasts. It was the only dream she had ever had…and now it is coming true.
This is the story of a horse-passionate young woman, a retiring barn owner, a devoted pair of courageous parents, and one of the loveliest barns in Clark County, Washington.
The first part of the story begins in 2008, when Barbara Hort and her mother Shirley surprised themselves by purchasing FarmHill Equestrian Center. The details of that journey have been described in detail in the November 2008 Flying Changes article entitled “The Accidental Barn Owner.” FarmHill served as the source of joy and inspiration for the many people who have become part of the FarmHill community… “FarmHillians,” as they call themselves. Under the guidance of Harriet Hauser, Jane Varley, and Cindy Dibbins, and later Suzan Davis Atkinson, Rebecca Buehler, and Mikaela Kuiper, the riders at FarmHill have enjoyed some of the best training in dressage and jumping that our area has to offer.
Of course, every barn must live through challenging times, and FarmHill is no exception. Harriet Hauser passed away unexpectedly in 2014, leaving Rebecca Buehler and Suzan Davis Atkinson to assume full responsibility for the FarmHill training program. Then, at the end of 2018, Rebecca suffered a serious car accident and Suzan broke her arm two weeks later. So FarmHill welcomed Mikaela Kuiper as a “rescue trainer” to carry the bulk of training, teaching, and exercising during the months until Rebecca and Suzan could resume their duties. Young as she was, Mikaela proved to be a powerful asset and addition to the FarmHill community.
Mikaela’s journey with horses had begun in 2000, when her parents Ron and Paula were a young couple who enjoyed the occasional trail ride while on vacation. We will never know whether Mikaela’s love of horses began at 15 months old, when she was introduced to a couple of Icelandic horses by a coattail relative in British Columbia. Or perhaps it was at 5 years old while in Central America, sporting beaded cornrows, when she was allowed to take her first ride solo in the saddle.
A few years later, while taking riding lessons with Kari Wetherill at Alicorn Stable, Mikaela’s passion for her equine friends became solidified. Lessons led to leasing, with the eventual purchase of an Arabian pony named L’Via. Soon Mikaela was spending her weekend mornings at the barn helping with barn chores. It was funny how waking up for school was such a task, yet on weekend mornings, Mikaela was up before dawn, dressed and ready to be dropped off to take the horse out to pasture and clean stalls. Mikaela not only shared her passion for horses with fellow Pony Clubbers, but she also created lifelong bonds with the adult riders at her barn.
Along with starting high school, Mikaela also wanted to take to the next level her passion for competing in three-day eventing. So L’Via became a “mom” to a couple of younger equestrians, and Niki, a thoroughbred mare, became Mikaela’s new best friend. At this point, it became evident to Mikaela’s parents that this ‘horse thing’ was going to be a part of their lives forever. Mikaela certainly had the talent to excel in school, but all she had ever wanted was to work with horses and riders in her own barn.
Building on the solid base that Pony Club provides, Mikaela subsequently served as a working student for several of our region’s most successful trainers, including the 4* eventing competitor Anna Collier, and the FEI dressage competitor Jessica Wisdom. She then moved on to an apprenticeship with master dressage trainer Suzan Davis Atkinson at FarmHill, with the goal of making Suzan’s methods the foundation of her own approach to dressage.
Along her training journey, Mikaela competed in three-day eventing through Preliminary, showed up to 3’6” in Hunters and 1.20 meters in Jumpers, and showed up to Fourth Level (with FEI to come!) in Dressage. Once a Pony Club kid herself, Mikaela eventually coached kids and adults who were competing in shows and events sponsored by Pony Club…as well as shows and events sponsored by larger hosting organizations.
In addition, Mikaela found that she had an affinity for off-the-track thoroughbreds, a passion she discovered when she worked at the track galloping the young racehorses. Since that realization, she made part of her living by retraining former racehorses and selling them as happy partners for amateur and professional riders.Through the years, Mikaela learned that she is happiest when she helps people achieve their goals for partnership with their horses, whether it is through buying the horse that is right for them, finding a new home for a horse that is not their owner’s best match, or working in lessons to achieve a rider’s goals for partnership with their horse.
Even though Mikaela had already run her own successful training and teaching business for the previous three years, it was during her two years as a trainer at FarmHill that she really blossomed. This was the beginning of her dream come true, as she received an incredible amount from her mentors — Suzan, Rebecca, Barbara, and Dr. Anne Ray of Ridgefield Equine Clinic. Mikaela expanded her repertoire exponentially at FarmHill — developing her equestrian skills as a teacher, trainer, and rider; honing the nuances of running her own business; and learning the management of a barn with premium horses and boarders. In addition to having the opportunity to advance Barbara’s FEI dressage horse Quintessence under Suzan’s tutelage, Mikaela collaborated with Rebecca’s management of equine wellness at FarmHill, she studied Barbara’s techniques of barn management, and she worked closely with Dr. Anne on the oversight of many cases of horse care and treatment. Mikaela was deeply appreciative of the gifts of time and knowledge that all these women shared with her, but she was perhaps most appreciative for being warmly adopted by the entire FarmHill community.
Therefore, it was almost beyond Mikaela’s belief when she learned that Barbara was hoping to bid farewell to barn ownership and management within the next two years. Clinging to just the faintest hope of success, Mikaela approached Ron and Paula and asked them what the possibility might be for a Kuiper family purchase of FarmHill. To her astonishment and indescribable joy, Mikaela learned that such a wonderful thing might be possible indeed. As result, the sale of FarmHill Equestrian Center to Ron and Paul Kuiper, under Mikaela’s management, was sealed at the end of 2020, and Mikaela’s lifelong dream…her only professional dream…came true.
In acquiring FarmHill, the Kuipers’ intent is to maintain its vision and history. Mikaela will continue to train horses and teach riders at the highest possible standard. And with the help of Barbara and Ron, she will further develop her skill at running a horse barn business. Mikaela’s mom Paula will provide a personal contact and communication liaison, and will serve as an assistant to Mikaela and Ron. Barbara has happily agreed to remain at FarmHill to serve as the Kuipers’ chief advisor. Ron and Paula will continue in their official professions — Ron as a pharmacist/supervisor of OHSU’s specialty and mail order pharmacy, and Paula as a cardiothoracic surgery physician assistant with Legacy Medical Group. Mikaela’s life partner Chase Lal will serve as “handyman” for the many projects that come up on a working farm. Mikaela herself will be the most visible member of the Kuiper “team,” as the manager/trainer of FarmHill, but Ron and Paula will be doing everything they can in the background to help make FarmHill a successful family business…just as Barbara and Shirley collaborated as a successful family team for their tenure as the owners of FarmHill.
Happily, the Kuipers already have several ideas in the works to build upon Barbara and Shirley’s aspirations for a premier equestrian center. The first plan is to build up to ten more runout stalls/paddocks so that Mikaela can move her personal horses to FarmHill. The second plan involves the 5 back acres of wooded property that are currently riding trails at FarmHill, which the Kuipers feel would be ideal for the creation of a small cross-country course and track. This would allow for additional horse training experiences, for not only FarmHill clients, but for outside riders as well, since the closest open cross-country course is currently over an hour away. Paula is also offering her embroidery services to create all sorts of FarmHill tack and apparel. Having started out sewing when she was a preschooler, and later pursuing her love of needle and thread with quilting and sewing equestrian gear, Paula hopes one day (likely after hanging up her stethoscope and scalpel blade) to offer in-house blanket laundering and repair.
It is still astonishing for everyone involved — Barbara, Ron, Paula, and probably most of all Mikaela —that such a long-held dream is actually being brought to life. But even when everyone wakes up from the blur of this transition, the dream will still be a reality. It is an impossible-dream-come-true, and that should serve as an inspiration to everyone who cherishes an “impossible” dream of their own.