The following is based off a conversation I had with Marisa Kalmar, owner of Cornerstone Farm located at 210 Wassergass Road in Hellertown, PA.
A few years ago, I was working as a personal trainer at a gym in Easton. One morning I had an appointment with someone new. Her name was Marisa Kalmar. During these sessions I really like to assess their strength levels and try to get a better understanding of where they are at physically. I asked this woman, how many pushups are you good for? I was thinking somewhere in the 6-8 range. She hits the floor and bangs out 20 of them. My first reaction was obvious, I was impressed. My second reaction was like, what the heck is going on here? Later I learned where her strength came from. She explained to me that she owns a horse farm and has been working with horses her entire life. Hitting a few sets of pushups were the easy part of her day compared to doing barn work. Since then, I got to know her very well and I have to say, I don’t think there is a harder working and more caring individual on the planet.
For as long as Marisa could remember, horses have been a part of her life. She began riding as a four year old taking trail rides with her father and later began lessons. As she got older, she continued to ride and began competing. For those in the horse world, you all know this is not a cheap hobby. Marisa spent a large chunk of her childhood working at her barn to help offset some of her expenses. It was not uncommon for you to see young Marisa feeding horses, cleaning their stalls, and taking them out to their fields. Keep in mind, she began doing this around age 8. Riding was the fun part and she was willing to work for the opportunity to ride. Because of this, she got a tremendous amount of experience riding multiple horses a day.
As she got older, the riding continued and so did her success as a rider and trainer. She took her talents to Virginia Tech where she was captain of the equestrian team. After graduating with a dual major in Animal Science and Business Management, it was time to enter the real world. It was time for her to get a "real" job. Unfortunately, the real world wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. After commuting to New York City for an office job, she realized this was not the way she wanted to live her life. She was not outside. Her fitness level began to deteriorate. She missed the animals. During this time, she knew that working with horses was what she needed to be doing.
In 2002, as she was contemplating her career choice in New York, she slowly began to start her business. It began very small. She boarded 1 or 2 horses, owned an additional 4, and was giving lessons to a few clients each week. Two of her clients were Lehigh University students. These girls rode for the Lehigh University Equestrian team and leading up to the season, they needed a coach. They asked Marisa if she would be interested. The year before the Lehigh team only had 4 or 5 girls on it. Marisa figured she'd be able to handle that. She decided to take the job. Soon after, she learned that the team was going to be bigger than it was previously. Instead of the 5 girls she thought she'd be coaching, there were 25 girls on the team! After that first year of coaching, she realized that this is what she wants to do with her life.
Before I get to the riding part, I want to talk about the horses at Cornerstone Farm. Over the past few years, I have gotten to know some of them quite well. Some of these horses were brought in as babies and they continue to thrive on the farm. But others were brought to the farm as older horses in need of care. Over the years, Marisa has rescued dozens of horses from abusive homes. I have two stories that I would like to share quickly. One is of a horse named Hamish (pictured left). I remember when Marisa learned about this horse from her best friend. Hamish was malnourished, had a terrible skin infection, and was in poor health. He was in bad shape. After some love and care, Hamish is well-fed, happy, and everyone loves riding him. He became the barn favorite for a lot of riders!
The other is of a male horse named Hershey (pictured left). The people around the barn know him as the "old man" as he now 31 years old. What they don't know is where he came from. When Marisa was 13, she met a very scared and skittish horse. He was abused at his previous home and was hesitant around humans. He just couldn't trust them. Marisa took a liking to this horse and purchased him. She rode him competitively through high school and college and achieved great success with him. With a little love and patience, these animals were able to overcome any previous issue and are now living healthy and happy lives!
Ever since the day I met Marisa, she has been trying to get me on a horse. After putting it off for a few years, I finally decided to give it a go! The horse I would be riding was a male named Ari. Marisa purchased Ari as a gangly and awkward 5 month old. He was kind of the ugly duckling that nobody wanted. Things have changed since those early days. Ari is now 10 is a very nice "show horse" that has achieved success at upper level horse shows.I got to know Ari while I was preparing him to ride. To those who think all you have to do is throw on a saddle and hop on, you will be mistaken. The horse needs to be prepped and cared for before you even think about riding. It is amazing how dirty they are able to get themselves, especially on days when you have to ride them. During this time cleaning and prepping, it gave me an opportunity to get to know Ari a little better and get comfortable with him. As you can see in the photo above, Ari is no small pony. He is a pretty big dude. During the prep time I had to make sure he was cool with me and I was cool with him. Lucky for me, Ari is no different than a dog. Except for the fact that he weighs 1000 pounds more.
Now, for the actual riding lesson, we started nice and easy. Marisa instructed me on the basics of riding and we began walking around the ring. The next step was learning how to make a turn. You have to take charge and give clear and direct instructions. The first thing I realized riding Ari was how sensitive he was to my movements. Everything you do up there with your hands and legs tell the horse something. A subtle move of the arm might tell the horse to start moving in a direction, even if you don't want them to do that. So after getting comfortable with moving Ari and making a few turns, we decided to try something new. Marisa taught me a little technique known as posting. To explain this as simple as possible, as the horse begins to move at a faster pace, the rider begins to move their body up and down. It almost looks like you are bouncing in the saddle. It is important for you to get in sync with the horse as your movements should match theirs. For my first time riding, this was tough for me to figure out. At times it felt like I was just hanging on up there as I bounced around. It was tough for me to find his rhythm and get in sync with him. I think with a little more practice, I will be able to get this figured out! It was a fun experience and I am glad to finally learn how to ride...albeit not greatly!
This summer, Cornerstone Farm will be running a few riding camps. The first camp will be with nationally known judge Karen Immerman. During this camp, riders will learn what horsemanship is all about and how the judges score riders. They will then practice these skills and get feedback from Karen on the positives and negatives of their trip. The other camp will be with United States Equestrian Team member Laura Chapot. Laura is an internationally known rider and one of the most decorated riders in the United States! Dates and times are still be worked out for these camps.
The farm will also play host to three horseshows in the upcoming year. The first, is a Marshall & Sterling show. The Marshall & Sterling Insurance League is a grassroots organization dedicated to providing competition for up-and-coming Children and Adult Hunter, Jumper and Equitation riders. This show provides an opportunity for riders to compete and qualify for the prestigious Marshall & Sterling Insurance League National Finals. The next show will be hosting the Lehigh University Equestrian team competition. During this show, college teams from all over the state will be on the farm competing for their respected schools. The third show is a fun one. It is the Lehigh University Alumni vs. Undergrad competition. During this show, former Lehigh riders strap up the boots and compete against the current Lehigh team. This competition is a fundraiser for the current team. I attended this event last year and it was quite entertaining. For the record, the Alumni squeaked out a victory last year and will be looking to do the same again this year!
After talking to Marisa, I asked her what made these animals so special to her. She answered by saying that these animals just let you be yourself. There is no judgment when you are hanging with them at the barn. For some children and adults, working with horses provides a great outlet for them as these animals provides solitude in a crazy world. They are such peaceful animals that rely on you for more than just food. They need companionship. They need friendship. They need love. This is much more than just a business at Cornerstone Farm.
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!