Equestrian Ambassador: Wyatt Teaches Horsemanship at Foxtrack Training Center
Mel Wyatt knew she wanted to make horses her life's career when she first sat on a horse at age 10. Wyatt had the ability to get a horse to do what she wanted from the get-go.
Horse owners would come to her to solve a training problem, offering to buy her a Coke if she could help them. A young professional was born.
Wyatt's passion is horses and she has spent a good part of her career fostering that passion in others. She teaches all levels of riders from ages 7 to 77 at her Foxtrack Training Center in Southern Pines, which she started in 1981. She currently has 39 school horses of all sizes and ability levels to match with riders of all skill levels, from beginner to advanced.
"I love horses and I love to ride. There is never a time sitting on a horse's back when I don't enjoy it. I love seeing other people get the same joy out of riding that I do.
"Teaching beginners brings riding back to the basics for me. You forget how much fun it was to post for the first time or feel a lead change for the first time. Seeing the rider's enthusiasm pays me back."
Winston Churchill once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." Wyatt's positive attitude is reflected back from her students.
Elizabeth Phelps and her twin sister Kim have been riding at Foxtrack for seven years. Liz rides on the Equestrian team at N.C. State and has worked on a horse farm in the northeast. "I realize going out in the 'real world' what makes the difference between Foxtrack and other horse farms," says Liz.
"That difference is Mel and her positive attitude. It's what drives every single person at Foxtrack to be better, to work together and support each other. And that is why you'll find me and my sister giving up our summers or our free weekends at school to come and work, teach and ride at Foxtrack. When you have someone so passionate and upbeat about horses and riding, it makes you passionate. You realize why Mel pushes you so hard and why she stands out in the ring from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- because the students' success and happiness rejuvenates her love for horses."
Teaching isn't the only thing Wyatt is involved in. She is one of four people who serve as Whipper-in for the Moore County Hounds during the fox hunting season. She participates in the sport of eventing in the spring after the fox-hunting season is over.
"You can't list them in an order of preference. I love everything I do," says Wyatt. "I like to think the fox hunting prepares me for eventing, and the eventing prepares me for fox hunting."
Wyatt has done just about everything to be done in the horse world and has a wealth of knowledge to draw from.
Foxtrack started out as a race horse training facility. In 1977, after graduating from Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism, Wyatt came back to Southern Pines. She started "pin hooking" Thoroughbreds, which refers to buying yearlings, breaking them to ride and then selling them as 2-year-olds. She would do the sales circuit throughout Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and Kentucky.
When the bottom fell out of the Thoroughbred market, Wyatt started playing with Steeplechase horses. Foxtrack originally had a 1/2 mile racetrack, a six-horse starting gate and steeplechase fences. "I would take the ABC horses or "Ain't Been Caught" (referring to horses that were handled once when they were weaned and once when they were put on the trailer), break them and send them back to their trainers," Wyatt said.
In 1989, she won the Block House Steeplechase on a horse called Only in Time, riding for Robert Kitson. The same year she also won a flat race at Stoneybrook aboard Idle Time also owned by Kitson. And in 1993, Wyatt won the Tanglewood Steeplechase with Bonded Dancer, this time as trainer of the horse. It was a Triple Crown achievement for both.
"I only did the Steeplechase horses for two seasons. I found out fast there was no money in steeple-chasing," said Wyatt. "When I turned trainer, it was hard to get a rider. Riders won't ride for a one-horse stable."
The race horse business was seasonal so Wyatt spent the summers teaching. The lesson program was born when Wyatt started teaching her niece Elizabeth Wyatt Adams to ride in 1991.
Wyatt teaches her students more than just how to ride. She fosters horsemanship by involving students in the care of the horse. Students in the Foxtrack lesson program are responsible for getting their ponies from the paddock, grooming them, tacking them up, and after the lesson washing the ponies, cleaning tack and returning the ponies to the paddock.
"I don't take children under the age of eight because most of them don't have a strong enough work ethic before that age," Wyatt says.
Wyatt takes a large contingent of junior riders fox hunting every season. "Any child that Mel takes hunting is well-prepared," says Mike Russell who has known Mel since 1969. Russell runs a boarding stable in Vass and is a long-time foxhunter. He leads the hill-toppers in the hunt field. "If any child has a problem, the whole group pitches in to help. There is a lot of team spirit. Mel does a great job."
Cameron Slade, a joint Master of the Moore County Hounds, echoes Russell. "Mel does a great job of getting the juniors ready to hunt, accessing their ability and where to have them ride in the hunt field to ensure they have a good experience hunting. Mel contributes a lot of time and effort to make it possible for children to go out and enjoy fox hunting. And she is smiling every time I see her."
Wyatt excels at a multitude of equestrian sports. A few years ago, she took part in a "horse show of legends." Wyatt was on Mike Plumb's team.
Each competitor rode a Dressage test, a show-jumping course and then drove a horse put to a carriage.
"Mel beat the hell out of all of us. She was superior and I thought I would win," said eight-time Olympian Plumb.
"This town is so lucky to have Mel," says Plumb a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. "I believe she knows how to start the process of riding. She's a supporter of safety, good technique and riding knowledge from the very beginning (of a rider's experience). I admire her enthusiasm, interest and energy."
Besides riding, Wyatt has pursued the martial arts since 1981. She recently was awarded a 7th degree Black Belt (9th being the highest achievement). Wyatt is currently a Grand Master Candidate. "A Grand Master Candidate means you give back to the sport," says Wyatt who teaches part-time at the Marshall Arts Academy of Southern Pines.
Wyatt is a tireless ambassador of equestrian sports, "giving back" with enthusiasm and dedication.
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