A BEAUTIFUL HORSE with dark coloring was flitting about and prancing around the end of his lead rope as I drove up to the little red barn at Living Well Farm.
As the teenage girl at the other end of the rope grew flustered over her misbehaving horse, farm owner Nancy McCaleb stepped in and took over.
In a calm and direct manner she quickly settled the horse down.
“He’s here so I can teach him to unlearn some very bad ground manners,” she said.
McCaleb trains horses and teaches riders at her farm in Elwha Valley.
As I caught up with her, young riders were scurrying about and readying their mounts for an upcoming group lesson.
“Excuse me,” an English riding apparel-attired youth politely said before walking her freshly saddled horse in front of me to enter the arena gate.
McCaleb went on to explain she’s trained dressage-based techniques at this barn for the past 15 years. She first leased the barn and stables for several years before the previous owner sold the house and property to her five years ago.
She offers private, semi-private and group lessons, along with horse training. She can provide the lesson horse or students can bring their own.
Bringing her experience as a long-time Port Angeles elementary school teacher gives her a leg up, she said, to her riding pupils. And she also concerns herself with her student’s mental, as well as physical, well-being.
It seems to pay off. During my visit, I saw students helping other students, as well as having fun with each other.
Watching a lesson from a covered shelter in front of the arena students, Sara Holland and Kennady Gilbertson enthusiastically shared with me how much fun the group had when they recently took a field trip to the renowned Pegasus Training and Rehabilitation Center in Redmond.
“It was great, we learned so much,” Gilbertson said.
Occasionally they’ll travel out of the area to shows such as those held at Bainbridge Island Saddle Club.
“We even went to a big show in Canada called the Thunderbird,” said Gilbertson, speaking of a summer trip the class took to a show at Thunderbird Show Stables in Langley, B.C.
Far too many years have passed since I first interviewed McCaleb for Peninsula Horseplay.
At that time she was coaching Port Angeles’ high school equestrian team members — the team’s first coach actually — for their upcoming Washington State High School Equestrian Team competitions.
As I recall, her son Garth McCaleb was a year too young to be in WAHSET, but active in Junior Rodeo.
When he entered high school he competed and excelled in both organizations, especially in cow events. To this day, she said, he’ll still come home to “ride the buck out of” problem horses for his mom.
Most afternoons Nancy McCaleb can be found perched on her tall swivel chair in the center of her riding arena shouting out instructions such as “pick up your inside rein,” “collect him up a bit” and, eventually, a praise, “good job!”
Her philosophy is that if a teacher can instruct the student with a patient, positive and encouraging attitude then the student’s mind becomes more receptive to learning and a willingness to try, which is just as important as learning how to connect and communicate with the horse.
She began working professionally with horses when she was 19 and living on the East Coast.
There, she worked with many different professional trainers. Her background and training includes hunter/jumper, dressage, eventing, Pony Club and 4-H. She is a graduate H-A pony clubber.
She was living in Alaska with her Coast Guard husband Ian McCaleb when he was transferred to the Port Angeles station 29 years ago. She’s lived here ever since with their two now adult children Carrie and Garth.
Tragically, at 51 Ian was diagnosed with early onset Dementia. After what she describes as “eight long and painful years” he passed away in 2017.
Currently there are 15 horses in residence at Living Well Farm. Some belong to McCaleb’s students, some are her lesson horses and others are her retired horses.
One of her pet peeves, and mine, is when an owner sells or gives away an older horse.
“I firmly believe in keeping your older horses until they pass,” she said.
“I think it’s cruel and unusual punishment to pass older horses on to others for some unknown fate. I would rather put them down here, knowing their life was good until the end of their days, rather than subjecting them to a scary end.”
When she sees or hears of a 25-year-old horse or older offered for sale or being given away she said she shudders, thinking, “Oh my goodness! That poor horse! My beginner’s lesson horse is 28 and still loving what she does. I couldn’t imagine her going to another home after so many years.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
Lacey’s been in our family since she was 11.
Now 27, there is no way I would sell or give her away to some unknown future fate.
Like McCaleb, if my circumstances changed I would euthanize Lacey in peace while she happily grazed on grass here at home.
I want to know her life ended well and she didn’t end up stuffed in a trailer with other fearful horses headed to the slaughter house.
Happily, good memories and friends are there to stay at Living Well Farm.
Living Well Farm is 10 miles west of Port Angeles off U.S. Highway 101 at 224 Glacier Lane.
For more information, contact McCaleb at 360-461-3980, [email protected] or through her Facebook page Living Well Farm.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.