I always knew that I wanted to be with horses, in some way. From age five until today, when I’ve made it my profession. I guess it’s just one of those things you just know. Like the first time you sit on a pony or a horse, you just know.
It all basically started when I was 5. The elementary school that I went to, every spring they had a carnival that was a fundraiser for the school, and they would have pony rides. At the carnival, I rode one of the ponies probably 30-something times. I would just get off, then get back in line. Finally, the carnival was over and they were loading up the horses. I was still there watching them, thinking how cool it was. The lady who owned the ponies came up and told my dad, “I think you’ve got a horse person here”. My dad looked at her and said, “what’s that?”
She said, “come by my place Saturday and you’ll find out”.
I began leasing that pony — Coco, a little gray Shetland pony. That pony, he could drag you around — he would drag me over to the grass and I couldn’t get his head up. I would get so mad at him and kick, throw the rope up, walk away, just leave him there. I remember my instructor telling me to go get my pony and get back on!
I rode and showed Western on Cocoa. When I grew, I graduated to a larger pony and started riding English. I liked the variety, getting to jump. I showed and rode in flat and jumping classes.
It was a while before I got my first horse, after I outgrew the bigger pony I was riding. I was in middle school, seventh grade. We bought this mare named Rosie, a bay Standardbred. I had her from age 3 to 29. I did everything with her. I remember going into Aldie (to where the Aldie Peddler is right there in town) — I used to ride her down there, right across the bridge, and stop traffic. I remember standing up on her hind end in the middle of the yard, and she would just stand there.
She was bombproof — and she was wildfire. You would pick up the canter — when you’d say “slow down”, she’d say “too bad”. Nothing was ever fast enough for her. There were a lot of people who would say “you couldn’t pay me enough to get on that thing”. But you just needed to understand her, know how to manage her. Then she would be perfect.
When I got Rosie, the first time I went to tack her up, I brushed her like she was a million dollars. Perfectly groomed — I mean, you couldn’t even pat any dust off that horse or comb the hair backwards and see any dander. She looked perfect. And I went to put the saddle on and I remember my instructor coming up to me, and she goes, “hang on, I’m going to help you one second”. I had put the saddle on backwards. I was so excited that I put the saddle on backwards. I remember that like it was yesterday.
Thinking back on my first horse — you don’t realize until different horses have come and gone in your life, and you’ve thought back on your experience with them, how good that horse was, and everything they taught you. It was like that with Rosie. We did so much together. I never would have done a third of what I did with her, with other horses.
I worked at a few other barns over the years, some smaller private barns and a 40-stall hunter jumper barn. Finally there was this one barn where I was working, the owner had this Quarter Horse named Skipper that he hadn’t ridden in a while and had started bucking under saddle. At the fearless, stupid age I was, I said, “let me get on him, I’ll fix it.” And I ended up riding him and fixing the issue. That was my first sort of training experience.
Eventually my dad got moved to central Virginia for his job. When I realized it was “horse country”, I was so excited. I saw how many farms and equestrian people were in the area and couldn’t wait to move. The biggest one I was in awe of was Karen and David O’Connor’s farm. We found a house with a 6 stall barn and 10 acres, and ended up with boarders and training horses for the 21 years we owned the farm.
One day, my dad and I were taking a drive around during farm tours. We would always pass by the driveway to Sprout, and on that day, my dad said, “you know, I’ve always wondered what is down this road”. We drove down Sprout’s driveway and there was an open house going on. And that’s how we discovered Sprout.
I started volunteering at Sprout, eventually working there part-time, while operating our home boarding and training business.
When we sold our farm after 21 years, I came to Sprout full time. And I’ve been here ever since.
Sprout is a special place to me. It’s special to be able to give people the opportunity to ride, when they probably wouldn’t get the opportunity anywhere else. Some of the things we’re able to do to make it so people can ride, the horses, the people. It’s a place like no other.
Hi, I am one of Michael’s aunts and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed reading this article and also seeing the photos, which bring back so many memories. Michael has always been a source of inspiration to me, and I am so proud of him and all he accomplishes in his life. He is one person who treats everybody right and has such a perceptive understanding of people, people of all ages, and of course, the special people and horses at Sprout. Thanks for such a wonderful article!
Great article on my favorite horse whisperer! Mike is always there to help address any issues with his ready charm and grace-he’s an indispensable part of the “Sprout Experience”!!
Mike and Sprout Center,
Thank you both for all you do! I’m Mike’s cousin and remember riding Rosie when I was in Elementary school. She certainly changed my life too. Thanks for sharing your story Mike it’s a fun read!
Mr. Mike amazing story. Thanks for what you do at Sprout and the guidance you give us. Great job.
What a wonderful story, Michael! I’m so glad you found horses & Sprout.
Thank you for this inspirational story, Mike. I love it
So glad you decided to turn down that driveway, Mike! Not only are you a blessing to our horses, but to our students and volunteers as well. I’ve learned so much about horses from you in my time at Sprout and I look forward to learning so much more in the years to come!