Riders find an outlet and a sense of community at the Chapel Hill farm.
by Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by Beth Mann
When they begin riding, many of my students are fond of the phrase ‘I can’t,’” Piper Jones says. Her message to them: “Yes, you can – let me show you how.” Piper grew up in a small town in upstate New York, where her mom taught her and her three sisters how to ride horses. “Horses are so wonderful for children, but little girls especially – it gives them so much confidence,” Piper says.
When she established Rolling Hills Stables off of Damascus Church Road 14 years ago, business was steady but slow. “I was more focused on being a stay-at-home mom,” Piper says. “But now that my kids [Kali, 22 and Garret, 16] are grown up and more or less on their own, I decided to make Rolling Hills into something more.”
Logan Williams, 9, on Kat.
That something more has meant a variety of growth for Rolling Hills over the past three years – more students, more instructors, more horses and the addition of summer camps. “I even rent extra land from Womble Farms next door,” Piper says. She owns 12 horses of all sizes, from a miniature pony named Ashley to a world-class show horse named Jordan. Kali, rode Jordan competitively as a teen; now he is primarily Piper’s personal horse.
Immie Moon, 11, a sixth-grader at Culbreth Middle School, is at Rolling Hills at least once a week and says she loves the fun atmosphere. “I always say if you love animals, riding is something you can do,” she says.
Susie Greene, here on Cooper, returned to riding at Rolling Hills after her daughter Casey got the bug.
Casey Greene, 13, also a student at Culbreth, echoes that sentiment. “I just love coming out here and riding, handling the horses, learning to care for them,” she says. Casey has participated in summer camps at Rolling Hills for the past few years and hopes to become a camp counselor. “Everyone here is so nice, and there is always someone around to help you if you need it,” she says.
The supportive community of riders includes their parents: Casey’s mom, Susie, credits her daughter’s interest in horses with getting back in the saddle herself. “I’ve been riding all my life but started back up again when Casey did. Now I’m here four times a week,” Susie says. “The cool thing about this barn is that it’s a place you can feel at home. Casey and I have both made friends here.”
Alaylah Walters, 12, rides once a week.
Miriah Walters says the quality of training her daughter, Alaylah, 12, receives is outstanding. “We’ve had a few different trainers, but Piper has the experience, maturity and strength that my daughter can really look up to,” she says. Alaylah, a seventh-grader at Culbreth, rides once a week and is usually at the barn hanging out or working with the horses an additional day each week. “Everybody here is so welcoming, and you can’t beat watching the sunset here,” Miriah says. “The ability to train hard and learn to care for the horses is great exercise and teaches the kids so much discipline and, as an added bonus, keeps them off their phones,” she adds.
Kelly Hunter has been boarding her horse, Kat, at Rolling Hills for about six years and joined the team as an instructor three years ago. “[There’s] really a family feel here. When somebody needs something, you just chip in and do it,” Kelly says. “The kids are especially wonderful. They are so supportive of each other, and there’s no ugly talk. They encourage each other.”
Piper Jones (left) opened Rolling Hills Stables 14 years ago. The horses give the students confidence, she says. “Whatever their passion may end up being as they grow up, they will feel more empowered to say, ‘This is what I want, and I’m going to go after it.’”
Piper has worked hard to cultivate this environment and credits the support of her family, neighbors and community at large. “When we lost our old pony, Warren Womble came out and helped us dig a hole. Where else can you find neighbors like that?” she says. Piper sources her hay from the Womble family farm, works with local farrier Bubba Haywood, and looks to Southern States in Carrboro for supplies. “I can call on almost anyone in the industry for help and they answer. It speaks volumes to me.”
The same philosophy that has helped her grow her business also informs her teaching strategies: “I try to get the kids, especially, since it’s mainly girls, to be determined at whatever they want to do, and do it. When the horse says, ‘I’m going to bypass this jump,’ you’re going to make them do it,” she says. “Some of these little tiny girls come in and don’t have their voice yet. Riding teaches them boundaries, how to go after what they want and how to say no.”
Casey Greene, 13.
Of course, Piper hopes that they will someday want to own a horse, and they will really know how to care for it. “Whatever their passion may end up being as they grow up, they will feel more empowered to say, ‘This is what I want, and I’m going to go after it.’”
When it comes to the social benefits of riding, Kelly agrees with Piper. “Whether students are timid or unsure or if they feel like they can’t speak up in school, they come out here, and a few months later they are bossing around a 1,200-pound animal,” Kelly says. “The look on their faces – it changes them.”
Immie Moon, 11, circles the ring at Rolling Hills Stables on Jordan.
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