Side of Ranch:Jay Heater
It was in August of 2018 when the Polo Club's Jaymie Klauber decided she would convert her passion into a profession.
Whoa! Did she really just pull the trigger?
Yes, Jaymie the restauranteur had become Jaymie the cowgirl, not that horses hadn't been part of her life for a long time.
But if you lived in Lakewood Ranch, you knew more about the woman who was booking your organization's special luncheon at the former Polo Grill & Bar than the woman who mucks stalls.
I had worked many foodie events that had been catered by Jaymie and Tommy Klauber over their 10-year run in Lakewood Ranch and I can attest that Jaymie enjoyed that high-pressure existence. I could also tell you a whole lot of stress was involved.
So I was glad she was going to follow a different path when she started Epic Equine Experiences, which was to offer specialized trail rides, social polo and a host of other equine services. Sounded like a laid back existence while she pondered whether to start another restaurant.
What she didn't expect was finding a new love.
She is teaching kids, and some adults, to ride and play polo.
On a chilly November day, I took a Sunday morning ride to 13010 Fruitville Road, eventually finding several very pretty and fenced fields. In one of the fields, three children took turns navigating a set of cones as Jaymie sat on a horse nearby, shouting encouragement.
Along the fence were the moms of two of the kids, and they talked about Jaymie being a natural instructor. Early in the learning process, they expected Jaymie to lead the horses around with a rope, slightly removed from the pony rides at the fair. But no, Jaymie had them trotting around in no time at all.
One parent, Jessica Berent, said her 7-year-old daughter, Abby, wants to play polo so getting her some lessons seemed like a good first step. What the Berents didn't realize was the overall picture of learning to ride.
"Jaymie teaches her to care for the horses and learn how to have a relationship with a horse," Jessica Berent said. "Then, this was only her fourth lesson and she is out there trotting. And I am not nervous at all."
Jaymie gave the kids some final instructions, which included caring for the horses they had just ridden, and then rode over to the fence.
"I am loving it," she said, although no such statement was needed. "I just started teaching and I'm good at it. It makes me so happy when I see the kids come along. I know what they are capable of doing, and I also know the toughest thing is learning to be the boss of a horse."
While Equine Experiences isn't a nonprofit, Jaymie notes, "saying we're not profitable is an understatement."
Eventually, she hopes the trail rides and other equine services pay off financially to the point where she can continue giving lessons.
At the moment, Jaymie is asking the community for some help providing equipment for the kids who want to learn to ride and play polo. Most of the tack shops in the area are Western, and not English.
On this particular day, Abby Berent was wearing a bicycle helmet.
"She's tiny," said her mom. "You can go online and run the risk of things not fitting."
The parents also wonder whether their child is going to enjoy riding or if it is just a short term interest. Buying all new equipment for a few lessons can get very expensive.
"'We needed helmets and boots for Gia (Sines-Figliola)," said her mom, Amanda Sines. "We're borrowing them today."
Jaymie hopes the equine community would donate some kids equipment for her students who just want to try out the sport. She doesn't want equipment to be a barrier. If you would like to help, you can find more information at EpicEquineExperiences.com.
"My personal goal is to get all these kids playing polo," said Jaymie, who also has been on a health kick since she started teaching and has lost 54 pounds.
Teaching cetainly is a different world than the bustling restaurant business. Will she return to her former meat and potatoes?
"I don't think so," she said before galloping off to another lesson. "I am going to stick out this equestrian thing."