SOLON– The pieces keep falling into place for Lisa Marie Andrews, an equestrian rider since she was 12. Andrews moved to Solon because of a horse named Graphite.
Graphite is the half-brother of Andrews’ former steed, Beetle Bailey, with whom she captured several awards including the 2007 Intermediate Horse of the Year.
She’s taken over Kevin O’Brien’s Oak Meadows Farm and revamped the stables, arena and pastures while setting up shop as Leamanach Stable in Solon.
Leamanach (pronounced lee-mah-knock) means the “leap of the horse” in Irish Gaelic, a fitting name for the new horse and rider training facility.
Andrews designs jumping courses and holds seminars and regular classes on horsemanship and the foundations of riding. She works with past Olympic rider and one of the coaches of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team, Michael Barisone, among others.
Barisone visits Leamanach regularly to teach seminars and work with Andrews. In 2013, she’ll visit his Florida ranch for three months of training as she charges into competition and her goal of making the 2016 Olympic team. Barisone trains past and future Olympians and Andrews said she’ll be immersed in equestrian artistry, watching training sessions and working with her horse daily.
She said she already eats, breathes and sleeps horses, sometimes riding all day on multiple mounts in the arena, on the jumping course, or on cross country rides.
Her jumping course features one jump that was used in the 2008 Olympics, her Hatrick horseshoe that can be seen from County Road F16 near Ely Road.
Hatrick is a family name and in honor of her grandfather, she offers a Hatrick scholarship for a rider to attend her classes.
Her newest horse, a foal with the barn name of Zazu, will be given the competition name of Hatrick as well.
Lisa Marie qualified to compete in dressage in Europe. Dressage is one of the three equestrian events, along with show jumping and cross country jumping.
But she wouldn’t be in Iowa without her Iowa City horse, Graphite, owned by Dr. Suzanne Cassel.
Horses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and with stable fees and other considerations, most riders seek sponsorships. Andrews has some sponsors and is seeking more to get her to competitions.
But she was grateful to Cassel for allowing her to ride and train Graphite, who she said was grazing in a pasture with a couple of donkeys when she found him.
But she’s not staking her Olympic bid or the farm on Graphite. She’s looking at a few other horses that might carry her to the 2016 medal stand in Rio de Janeiro.
Leamanach is expecting another baby horse next year, Andrews said. She welcomes visitors and will make announcements on the Leamanach Facebook page (where photos of young Zazu/Hatrick outnumber those of nearly all the other horses combined).
Area horse lovers are invited to attend an upcoming clinic with Barisone. Her barn has stadium seating for viewers and Barisone will return Oct. 10 and 11 for another training session. Andrews asked that the audience remain quiet and respectful of the riders and horses.
About 30 horses are trained and boarded at Leamanach and Andrews has a few workers who help clean stables and prepare horses for her to ride.
Kevin O’Brien leases the stable and pastures to her after his family farm, Oak Meadows, sat unused for nearly 20 years.
Leamanach opened in August and is still being cleaned up. O’Brien and Andrews work in perfect step with each other regarding the facility, she said.
In addition to the stadium seating, they’ve updated the barn with clear paneling for more light and a Lightfoot sand and rubber mix in the arena from Footings Unlimited to keep horse hooves healthy. Horse stalls were refurbished and they installed automatic watering systems and lights in the pastures. The new $20,000 jumping course out front (with the Olympic horseshoe jump from China) was built by Jumps West and features 20 unique jumps, including a Hawkeye-themed design. In the pastures, state-of-the-art flexible fencing protects horses from injury.
Andrews is certified to design jumping courses for competition, but she loves training horses and riders the most.
After the 2012 Olympics, when U.S. riders failed to medal for the first time in 50 years, Andrews said the Olympic team met to discuss the future of the sport in the U.S. They decided that horsemanship and basic foundations of riding were being lost in this country and she’s part of the movement to bring it back.
What makes a good equestrian?
“It’s the heart of the horse and the passion of the rider,” she said.
Andrews teaches patience and perseverance with horses and doesn’t believe you can buy your way to championships, “You need determination and tenacity.”
Andrews is showing that determination in her bid to become an Olympic rider. And along the way, she’s helping others connect with their horses.
Her students range in age from 3 to 68 and she loves watching them bond with their horses.
Although equestrian events are a team effort between rider and horse, she said, “the horse is the most important thing.”
Olympic coach Michael Barisone and Leamanach Stables will host a clinic from Oct. 10 through 11 and the public is welcome. Barisone was featured on “The Colbert Report” this summer, teaching television humorist Steven Colbert to piaffe (a type of dressage horse trot).